THE renowned classical guitarist, John Williams, will perform a solo recital at the CIT Cork School of Music next Thursday, Nov 21. This is his third, and probably final concert in Ireland. He is retiring from concert recitals after June 2014.
Williams is celebrated. From his childhood in Australia to his stellar international career, Williams’ life has been extraordinary.
Master of the classical repertoire, he took the guitar to a wider audience with the band, Sky, and by championing the music of South America and Africa.
Williams’ father, Len, was an enormous influence, in terms of John’s career, and in the creation of his complex identity.
Williams credits his father as being his best and most important teacher: Len pushed him hard in his guitar studies. Len founded the Spanish Gautar Centre, in London, in 1952. It was the world’s first classical guitar centre.
In the 1980s, I attended master- classes given by John, in Cordoba, Spain. He was stimulating and helpful and his classes were in the form of a seminar.
The large group of students was encouraged to give their opinions from the floor. These sessions often continued, over coffee and drinks, in the nearest cafe bar.
I travelled to Cordoba in 1985, armed with an honorary freeman of Cork scroll, from the Cork 800 organisers, to present to Williams as a gesture, prior to his first performance in the City Hall, Cork, which was due later that year with his group, John Williams and Friends.
Williams was delighted with that gesture of welcome.
When the new, state-of-the-art CIT Cork School of Music opened in 2007, I contacted Williams again and, since then, he has performed twice at the school, in 2009 and 2011. His visits have had a seminal effect on guitar students in the school, who were privileged to have such a great musician in their midst.
Indeed, his generosity was evident in 2009, when he gave a free concert in the Cork City Library, for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
His visits to Cork have been made possible by the enthusiastic co-operation of the director, Dr Geoffrey Spratt, and of the Cork Orchestral Society.
My dealings with Williams and his agent have always been professional and most cordial. Despite his status, Williams is very warm and sincere.
Williams is still enthusiastic about the guitar, and in a recent BBC interview he described the classical guitar as “a wonder and a fantastic instrument... the concentration on the quality of sound, and the variety of sound, has to do with the classical guitar, as opposed to the popular guitar.”
I am a performer and teacher, and, for many years, I have been a lecturer in guitar studies in the CIT Cork School of Music. But I still remember, as a teenager in the 1970s, my first experience of listening to a Williams recording — the music was exciting, exhilarating, vital and played with technical brilliance.
I remember being inspired by the purity of his sound, and the dawning realisation that I was listening to music that displayed excellence beyond my ordinary life.
In this sense, Williams represented, and still represents to me, an idealised version of a guitarist that has consistently inspired me. Williams’ music played a major part in my aspiration to be as proficient as I could. I count myself privileged to know him and his music.
* John Williams’ concert in the CIT Cork School of Music this week is sold out. Williams will be chairing a seminar on the role of the guitar in education, also in the CIT Cork School of Music, on Thursday, Nov 21, at 4.30pm.
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