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Barrueco trades Lexus for symphony

Guitarist known for TV ad performs this weekend

Guitarist  Manuel Barrueco, who performs this weekend with the Spokane Symphony, has appeared with most of the  world’s great orchestras.  Courtesy of Spokane Symphony (Courtesy of Spokane Symphony / The Spokesman-Review)
Guitarist Manuel Barrueco, who performs this weekend with the Spokane Symphony, has appeared with most of the world’s great orchestras. Courtesy of Spokane Symphony (Courtesy of Spokane Symphony / The Spokesman-Review)
Travis Rivers Correspondent

Few classical musicians have achieved wide recognition from television commercials. But guitarist Manuel Barrueco has been seen – and heard – by more people in a TV ad for the Lexus sedan than have bought tickets for his concerts or copies of his many recordings.

Spokane Symphony audiences on Saturday and Sunday will have a chance to hear Barrueco on center stage, rather than in the back seat of a Lexus, playing a concerto based on Manolo Sanlúcar’s ballet “Medea.”

The program also includes Franz Liszt’s “Les Préludes” and Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4. Eckart Preu, the orchestra’s music director, will conduct.

The point of the Lexus ad showing Barrueco playing Albéniz’s gentle “Asturias” was that the guitar – in its acoustic form, at least – is a quiet instrument, but the car was quieter.

A stage full of symphony musicians are not nearly as quiet as an acoustically insulated luxury car. So there will be some subtle amplification for Barrueco in this weekend’s concerts.

Barrueco (pronounced bah-roo-EH-ko) was born in the Cuban city of Santiago de Cuba and began playing guitar when he was 8. He attended the Esteban Salas Conservatory in Santiago before leaving Cuba with his family as political refugees when he was 15.

After trying rock and roll and going through a rebel period of silence, he studied in New York and completed advanced studies at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, where he now teaches.

Many listeners encountered the broad range of classical guitar music from a four-LP set Barrueco recorded for the Vox label, issued in the early 1980s, covering three centuries of music for the instrument.

He has since become one of the most oft-recorded guitarists with more than a dozen records on the EMI label ranging from Bach and Scarlatti through standard guitar repertoire to Barrueco’s own transcription of songs by the Beatles and Chick Corea.

A wide range of composers such as Michael Daugherty, Roberto Sierra, Toru Takimitsu and Arvo Pärt have also written works for him.

Barrueco has appeared with most of the world’s great orchestras and many times on television other than in the car commercial. He was the subject of a PBS documentary “Manuel Barrueco: A Gift and a Life,” by writer director Michael Lawrence.

This weekend Barrueco will perform the solo part of Sanlúcar’s concerto-like “Medea.” The 64-year-old Spanish composer is himself a prominent flamenco guitarist. One writer referred to him as “an engineer creating a bridge between flamenco and symphonic music.”

“Medea” was originally a ballet Sanlúcar wrote for the Spanish National Ballet in 1967 based on the Greek myth of Medea, the wife of Jason. After helping Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece and giving birth to his two sons, she was cast aside for a political marriage to Glauce, daughter of the king of Corinth.

Medea first gives her rival a dress that clings to her as it burns her to death. Then she kills their sons before Jason’s eyes. Not a pretty story.

When Barrueco arranged six of the ballet’s 14 movements into a concerto for guitar and orchestra, he decided not to make the infanticide the end of the work. Instead he made the ballet’s opening “Fiesta” the concerto’s finale.

Barrueco will present a master class with guitar students from local colleges and universities Friday at 4 p.m. at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox. The class is open to the public. Admission is $5.

Preu opens this weekend’s program with Franz Liszt’s symphonic poem “Les Préludes” and concludes the concerts with Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4.

Bruckner, a younger contemporary and a worshipper of Wagner and older contemporary of Mahler, spent his life as a famous organist and an almost entirely neglected composer of symphonies.

“The Spokane Symphony has never played much Bruckner,” Preu said in an interview earlier this season. “His music is a challenge for orchestras and for conductors. But so is Mahler’s. We have done a lot of Mahler here, but almost no Bruckner. I can’t wait.”

Preu will discuss the music on this weekend’s concerts in a pre-concert talk one hour before performance time as a part of the orchestra’s Gladys Brooks Pre-Concert Talks series.

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