I hadn't seen Manuel in 4 or 5 years, since he played the Aranjuez Concerto with the Chattanooga Symphony.
This was the first solo guitar concerto that the Nashville Symphony has programmed in 13 years, very odd for a 'guitar town' like Nashville. The last performance of a guitar concerto with the NSO was circa 1995 when Christopher Parkening played the same concerto... and by all accounts, had a tough time with it .
Manuel again played the Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez... the most famous guitar concerto ever written. He played great, as usual, and I had an excellent seat to watch. If you haven't been in the new Schermerhorn Symphony Center, you're missing one of the crown jewels of the Nashville arts scene. It was just awesome with table seating, food and wine for the patrons, it was a particularly nice night. It was a great program of Spanish and Latin American music. I really like Giancarlo, the new conductor/music director. Funny, but he told the audience a story of how he first heard the composer Alberto Ginestera's music - on a rock album by ELP: Brain Salad Surgery, exactly the same way I first heard this music as a young teenager!
Speaking from experience, I know the Aranjuez guitar concerto by Rodrigo can never be taken for granted, it is a hard piece that has 'taken down' many a great player. As a colleague of mine noted, the first movement is a gauntlet of technical challenges and it's 'easy to fall off the guitar.'
Manuel is a supremely controlled performer. It always seems like he's playing it a bit safe but he didn't take any short cuts. He could have slurred the scales in the last movement but he didn't, he ripped 'em. He kicked ass and got a standing ovation.
I had a long conversation with him afterward. He remarked that he had forgotten that he played with the NSO once before, early 80s. I asked him if he ever took 2 weeks off from the guitar, he said no, and his wife confirmed that fact. Maybe a week he said. He also said that he'd "like to take a year off. " I asked him about his hobbies. His wife said, turning the wine bottles in his collection.
I asked him about the Aranjuez concerto, what part scares him the most? He said it's different all the time. He mentioned discussing this with Pepe, that the relationship with this piece changes... sometimes some parts seem hard and sometimes they don't. It's kind of like any hard piece, you keep having to "plug the leaks." For me, starting the last movement always seemed the hardest. Manuel also mentioned that that there are many a great solo guitarists that don't necessarily make great concerto performers. Playing concertos with a full orchestra is a rare opportunity for most guitarists.
I've played several concertos in my career and that's not many, less than a dozen. Most recently with the TN Phil - the Fantasia Concerto by Rodrigo. Here's a clip.