Spotlight Then and Now: Michael Nicolella

July 23, 2013

WHEN CLASSICAL VIRTUOSO Michael Nicolella appeared in Frets magazine in 2006, his album Shard was described as “an exciting textbook on how to honor classical tradition and kick it in the ass at the same time.” As a player, Nicolella possesses stunning chops and a delicate touch. As a composer, he creates works of uncommon depth and breadth, writing for nylon-string, electric guitar, orchestra, and voice, and incorporating haunting, modern dissonance alongside lilting, beautiful melodies. At his core, he’s a guitar dude who can discuss Queen, Van Halen, and Hendrix as easily as Bach and Segovia. His latest release, Ten Years Passed, features Nicolella on classical and electric, performing with the Northwest Symphony Orchestra. He is currently on the faculty of Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle.

“I can’t overstate how important Guitar Player was to my youthful musical development,” says Nicolella. “In retrospect, I realize that its all-encompassing coverage was instrumental in shaping my extremely wide stylistic interests. So, I was understandably thrilled when I was featured in the February 1987 Spotlight column.

“At the time the feature ran, I was already well on the path to devoting myself to classical guitar, and spent the better part of the next decade solely doing so (placing the electric guitars in the proverbial closet). Curiously, in the late ’90s I started on the road I’m on now, incorporating electric guitar into my classical performances and increasingly focusing on my own compositions, in many ways returning to the general aesthetic of my Spotlight submission.

“My Spotlight feature served as much needed validation and all the “fan” letters were inspiring. I particularly remember one from a girl who identified herself by writing, ‘I’m the one lifting my shirt up in the Mötley Crüe video.’ You don’t often get that at classical guitar recitals.”

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