Manuel Barrueco’s latest recording is truly a novel idea. “In the novel Concierto Barroco by Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier,” he says, “there is a ‘jam session’ in Venice during Carnival with Handel, Vivaldi, and a Cuban slave playing percussion with cooking utensils. I liked that moment and asked composer Roberto Sierra if he would write a concerto that tried to capture what that might have been like.” Barrueco’s Cuban heritage and jamming experience (with jazz/rock legends Al Di Meola, Steve Morse, and Andy Summers on his 2001 release Nylon & Steel) make Concierto Barroco [Koch International Classics] a reality.
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What guitar do you play?
In concerts, I’ve been playing a Matthias Dammann. I use a Robert Ruck for recordings.

Why use one for concerts and the other for recording?
The Dammann is a more powerful instrument. The Ruck is like an old wine. It has an older, more refined sound. When you are in a big hall, having a bigger sound is more important than subtle differences in the quality of it. Concierto Barroco was actually recorded with the Dammann as I was playing with an orchestra.

How many rehearsals do you have with the orchestra before the recording?
Under normal circumstances, you get one rehearsal, two if you’re lucky. People may think that it’s rehearsal after rehearsal but it’s not. When it’s a premiere yeah, it would be advisable to have more than one rehearsal [laughs], but it would not be unusual if it were only two. I never have scarier moments than those performances.

I loved “Folias,” the other piece Sierra did for you. To me that sounds like an epic right up there with Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.”
More than half the times I’ve played it, it receives a standing ovation. I would say that it’s a hit. It’s a piece that’s going to be around.

“Fratres,” by Arvo Part, was very interesting. Were there any technical or musical challenges with that piece?
There is one section where the guitar is playing very high chords. In the version that I worked from, which was a version for violin and strings with percussion, those chords are on the beat. When Arvo Part heard it, he thought right away of putting them on the second part of the beat so the guitar would play when the orchestra wasn’t playing. I was pretty amazed by that solution—how simple it was and how well it worked. Because when I was playing the chords on the beat, they just couldn’t be heard. There are some parts later on with a tremolo. I suggested that because he had these long notes that couldn’t sustain naturally on the guitar.

Having collaborated with people such as Al Di Meola, Steve Morse, and Andy Summers, do you have any advice for non-classical players in terms of technique and musicianship?
It’s all about developing your technique as much as possible so you can come closer to making the music you hear in your head. It’s being able to work with time, rhythm, sound, the volume, the color, the articulation, and the vibrato. If you have an artistic vision in your head of how you want something to sound, you need to be able to project that. I think it’s become clear in my old age that it’s not necessarily how many notes you play on the instrument but the beauty and the power of them.