For classical guitarist David Tanenbaum, it all started with a sound.
From the first notes of a performance by Spanish classical guitar legend Andrés Segovia, Tanenbaum, then 11, was hooked.
The son of classical musicians, Tanenbaum had studied piano and cello as a child, and had even played electric guitar in a band, but it wasn’t until Segovia’s concert that he realized he was meant to play the classical guitar.
“I knew what I would do with my life at that point,” he said. “I was 11. I’ve never been paid a dollar to do another thing.”
Tanenbaum eventually began studying with renowned classical guitarist Rolando Valdés-Blain, riding the train to Greenwich Village every Saturday for his lesson.
Tanenbaum would arrive at 1 p.m., when he said Valdés-Blain would just be waking up. Valdés-Blain would open a bottle of wine, light a Cuban cigar then spend the rest of the afternoon teaching.
Tanenbaum recalls working through two collections of guitar studies, learning them all in great detail. When they had finished both collections, Valdés-Blain told Tanenbaum they were going to go back to the beginning and start again.
“That was incredible because we knew them already but I got to see them at a deeper level,” Tanenbaum said, comparing his time with Valdés-Blain to an apprenticeship.
Tanenbaum now applies much of what he learned from Valdés-Blain, things like the details of fingering and the art of playing the guitar, in his own lessons with students as chair of the guitar department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
He also uses the same guitar studies books he worked through with Valdés-Blain when teaching.
Since becoming a teacher, Tanenbaum has noticed several differences in guitar education from his time as a student.
For one, many more universities and conservatories offer guitar programs now than when he was looking to attend school.
Technique, like playing with straight wrists, has also become more standardized.
“There may be some different schools but everybody agrees on certain principles,” he said.
Tanenbaum has also seen the concert repertoire of intermediate level guitar pieces expand beyond what he was offered as a student.
“Now there’s a repertoire that’s very satisfying that’s not that hard to play and that makes studying the guitar more viable and more fun to do,” he said.
When Tanenbaum performs at the Jacklin Arts and Cultural Center on Friday as part of the Friends of the Guitar Hour Concert Series, he hopes to fill his setlist with a variety of pieces that give listeners a thorough introduction to classical guitar.
“You can expect to hear a variety of styles, which I think is the most interesting way to hear the guitar, to hear it in different centuries,” he said.
The first part of the concert features music for the Baroque guitar, including Ennemond Gaultier’s “La Cascade,” which Tannenbaum arranged for guitar after hearing Hopkinson Smith perform the piece on lute.
The second part of the program features three pieces that have been written for Tanenbaum.
“I’ve worked really hard to expand the guitar repertoire and get living composers to write for it because the guitar doesn’t have its Beethoven and its Mozart in the 19th century …,” he said. “I’m interested in composers reflecting what it’s like to live in the world right now, not just older music. Older music has its timeless truths but I want music that feels like the world feels like today.”
Two of the pieces, “Soliloquy” and “Shadows and Light,” were birthday gifts from composer Aaron Jay Kernis and Brazilian guitarist Sergio Assad, respectively.
“You couldn’t give me a better gift than to give me a piece of music,” Tanenbaum said. “A Mercedes would be nothing compared to a completely new piece of music written for me.”
The third piece is by Serbian-born American composer and guitarist Dušan Bogdanović, who used to teach with Tanenbaum at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
“All three pieces are very different but very listenable, not scary modernist music,” Tanenbaum said.
To close the program, Tanenbaum plans to perform Jose Luis Merlin’s “Suite del Recuerdo,” which he said features lot of dances from the composer’s native Argentina.
“They get their dessert as well as their main course,” Tanenbaum said. “The instrument really can bring the world to them in its own little quiet way.”
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