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Classical 101

At 72, Guitarist John Williams Plans to Retire Soon

It's being reported that Classical guitarist John Williams, who is 72, plans to retire soon.  Apparently, he has not made an official announcement yet, but I am a little surprised to hear the news since he is still playing at such a high level. The Australian-born guitarist is one of the top artists in the field today, and I have been aware of his importance since I first began listening to classical guitar performances in the 1980's.  Some of my first recordings of the instrument were from Mr. Williams.  His recording of the the Lute Suites of J.S. Bach and a concerto recording that included a transcription of Bach's Violin Concerto in E were early favorites of mine. What I heard, particularly in the Lute Suites, was a kind of crisp clarity and articulation of notes that I found appealing and reminded me in some ways of Glenn Gould's piano recordings of Bach.  I don't want to make too much out of that comparison, however, for Gould was famous (or notorious) for his idiosyncrasies when it came to interpreting Bach's music.  John Williams' playing has a more no-nonsense directness.  He applied that to the standard Spanish and Latin-American repertoire as well. Williams' interpretive approach and musical ideas seem to have put him at odds with his most famous and illustrious teacher, Andreas Segovia, according to a report quoting a recent biography.  He is critical of Segovia's teaching style as having been too authoritarian and limiting in helping students develop their own interpretations of music.  I'm nor sure if it's ironic or not, but John Williams' own style of playing seems to have developed just fine.  His interpretations seem worlds apart and certainly distinct from the overtly Romantic style of the old Spanish master, who kept playing and teaching until near the end of his long life. John Williams is by far, an artist of more all-encompassing and diverse styles of music and playing, having performed not only the standard classical guitar repertoire very well, but also explored the worlds of Jazz, Rock, and Pop.  Williams also achieved a kind of popularity that went beyond the strict boundaries of the classical music world with "hits," such as Stanley Myers' Cavatina, when it was used as the main theme in the soundtrack for the 1979 film The Deer Hunter. Perhaps it's partly a generational thing, the son rebelling against the father idea.  I can understand both points of view.  After all, it was Segovia's single-minded purpose and devotion to the instrument early in the 20th century that elevated the classical guitar to the status of a serious concert instrument.  As a young and gifted student, Williams certainly benefited from the association and attention, and I'm sure that helped open doors for him. John Williams was one of Segovia's most famous and successful students.  Maybe too much is being made about his comments about his older teacher of another era.  He has also acknowledged the older master's accomplishments.  There are certainly other luminaries who have also acknowledged their debt to Segovia, such as Christopher Parkening and Julian Bream. As he seems to be getting ready to retire, John Williams can rest assured that he has forged his own distinct identity as a fine musical artist of his generation, just as Segovia did in his.  Above is John Williams in an atmospheric video playing  Asturias by Issac Albeniz.