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Classical Guitar Magazine

» 25 June 2008 » In Interviews » Comments Off on Classical Guitar Magazine

Interviewed by JULIA CROWE

RICARDO COBO describes his present hometown in Las Vegas as a competitive environment, yet he finds that the challenge, along with the climate, suits him. If you take a look at Cobo’s overall career trajectory, it’s clear that he has never been shy about laying down a solid foundation while maintaining the intent to carve out his own path.

‘The guitar scene in Cali was small,’ he says. ‘It was small then and still is now, so I decided to study in the United States. The Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore was my first choice because I wanted to study with a recognized teacher like Aaron Shearer, whom I eventually followed to the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. I had an F-l visa at the time which allowed me to remain in the US as a student. After I finished my graduate and Doctoral work with Bruce Holzman I was awarded an “Extraordinary ability” Visa which enabled me to work and perform freely.’Cobo began his studies at the Antonio Maria Valencia Conservatory in Colombia when he was 13 years old and recalls taking a class from Abel Carlevaro in Bogota.

‘As a young teenager I was really taken by Carlevaro. He turned musical study into a science with an approach that said if you did the sum ‘a + b’ then you would get ‘c’. I was fascinated with how he had organized teaching into a graded method. At that age, I wasn’t focused on sound quality or emotion but rather on learning basic technique and he gave me much hope. What Carlevaro offered was a reasonable alternative to the prevalent notion at the time, which was, you’d better play like Segovia or else you’re screwed. He created a method to help musicians become competent without injury.

‘Later when I studied with Aaron Shearer, I learned to develop sound, musical ideas, and a solid technique based on proven principles. The objective here was flawless phrasing, even temperament, legato playing and consistency. These two teaching styles complimented each other. ‘

Cobo eventually moved to a brownstone apartment shared by four other musicians in the Hell’s Kitchen district of New York, where he lived for ten years while entering and winning several major competitions in Europe: the San Juan, the Tarrega, the GFA and the Alirio Diaz Competition in Venezuela, to name a few. During this time he also worked as a studio musician in New York throughout the ’90s at the Essay and Angel labels doing jazz and jingle work.

‘I’ve found that work in New York tends to be won more by word-of-mouth and heavy lobbying,’

Classical Guitar Magazine

Ricardo Cobo.

Cobo explains. ‘While Vegas is straight-up and commercial-it’s about your ‘look’ and what you can do on the spot, live and in the studio.’

Cobo recorded an album of Leo Brouwer’s Guitar Concertos, Concierto Elegiaco and Concerto de Toronto for the Essay label, followed by Leo Brouwer, Guitar Music, Vol. 1 (Naxos).
‘I was fascinated by Brouwer’s work as a teenager, absolutely taken by it. I learned nearly everything he had published and eventually met him as an adult in Caracas while competing in the Diaz competition in 1990. We became fast friends. For anyone to deny his importance as a composer for the guitar, I would say is absurd. His music was idiomatically groundbreaking and innovative, but it sounds traditional compared to what you hear today.’

Determined ‘not to wind up in the Heifitz cookie cutter mold or classical music mothball box,’ Cobo worked at the Shakespeare Festival in Utah, performed at several private parties in Las Vegas and decided to leave New York altogether.

‘My decision to move to Las Vegas was based on the wish to get away from the crazy purist attitude inside classical music and the perception of the guitar. Las Vegas is relatively new to the classical guitar, and because entrenched perceptions of the instrument do not exist there, I knew I could build a lot of interest for guitar. Initially, what really pushed me to move was the endless beauty of places like Zion, Bryce, Escalante and Red Rock. Being in touch with these magical places has changed my quality of life,’ Cobo says emphatically.

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If it took a few East Coast card sharps to turn a railyard worker’s gambling ditch into a multimillion dollar glittering gaming paradise, smack in the middle of a desert, Cobo is clearly intent on applying his own business savvy here to increase the profile of the guitar. You won’t find him replacing Roy Horn at the Mirage club any time soon, or fending off nearly extinct white tigers and snow leopards with the broad side of his guitar; however you will find him playing corporate gigs In-between running numerous recording studio projects.

‘All the industry conventions pass through Las Vegas. You name It: automobile. electronics, hotels, the adult film industry… For example, I played a Spanish program for executives of La Quinta Inns.’

If you’re curious to know what program he played at the adult film industry convention, Cobo’s quick response is, ‘Tangos.’
‘Bill Gates had Sting come to his house and paid him £500,000 to play three songs. You see this in Vegas all the time. If the opportunity is there for me, 1 take it and the best part is that I get to introduce my music to an appreciative audience and have them walk away thinking about the guitar in a new light. I playa wide variety of gigs in town and classical music is not a priority. It’s the level of awareness that I’m determined to raise,’ he says.

Comparing the music scene in Las Vegas to downloading music on the Internet, Cobo adds. ‘People want fast, easy access and loud music right now. Classical music represents the antithesis of this. Guitar is still the cool, Latin and exotic instrument you hear at smaller gatherings. Listening to guitar on your iPod is an even more intimate affair. Regardless of where you play, quality is something you have to maintain yourself – it’s something you learn from having worked on the East Coast.’

Cobo’s unique approach landed him a lucrative opportunity to make a children’s music CD, Guitar Lullaby (Ellipses Arts), which was first marketed through the Gaiam/Harmony mail order catalogs. purveyors of new age spiritual and environmentally-sound products. The album quickly won a slew of awards from the American Library Association to Parents’ Choice Awards to a mention from Gramophone magazine for being one of the finest new classical recordings.

‘When Ellipsis Arts approached me about doing this project, I Initially had some trepidation. They asked me to create an album with various songs and traditional lullabies. They put a lot more care Into the production than any other recording project I’ve worked on, providing an acoustician and a music therapist who specialized in children. It was an elaborate process and turned into a best-selling album:

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It is with little surprise that Guitar Lullaby inc!udes Sergio Assad’s Morning’s Rag from his Children’s Cradle Suite, Leo Brouwer’s Berceuse, Un Amor de Valsa by Paulo Bellinatl and Sunday Morning Overcast by Andrew York, among other pieces, proving that Cobo is determined to Inject intelligence into a commercial format.

‘I love the stage but In a different way than most. I do not want to spend thirty years playing perfect concerts of museum music for other guitarists In perfect halls. I want to write, arrange and record original music with other amazing musicians and perform in a variety of venues including the web. It’s my belief the classical music environment has to change or else It’s going to be pushed Into an even smaller slot than it is already.

‘I caught a clip of jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis on the television programme, The Charlie Rose Show, where he said, ‘Music is people: Music Is the echo of the poetry of the struggle people go through every day. Classical music can be done well in many unusual settings if It Is presented properly and allows you to reinvent yourself. Today, pop culture is winning. Mediocrity and spin captures the spotlight. I am not sure what the answer to this conundrum Is, but one of my goals is to remedy this by repackaging and re-recording traditional music: Cobo Is currently focusing on performing works by younger Cuban, Venezualan, Caribbean, Colombian composers such as, Eduardo Martin, Harold Gramatges. El Indio Figueredo. Gentll Montana, Alejandro Wills, Juan Vicente Torrealba, and Rafael Olmos. Some are original pieces for guitar, but with composers like Figueredo, Wills, and Torrealba, Cobo has transcribed from folk harp. He is also looking into transcribing works for guitar from unique and historical 18th and 19th-century Colombian piano pieces.

He is currently recording a variety of music and preparing three albums for release next year (label information will be forthcoming.)

One album is of Cuban music for guitar and percussion with upright bass and includes some Brouwer arrangements that Cobo says have never been previously performed.
‘The second album is of traditional repertoire, my father’s favourite music: the kind of pieces you play at your first recital, like Barrios, VillaLobos. I plan to release It before Father’s Day:
His third album will consist of ensemble music with the guitar, saxophone, violin and flute and will include Cobo’s own arrangements and original tunes with the tango and bandoleon on some tracks.

These days Cobo is teaching privately and offers short consultations, which is as much as his busy recording schedule will allow. When asked about how he developed his dynamic, powerhouse playing style, he says, ‘I’m not a Weak personality. I’m intense and present. I cannot help but be whom I am – it’s genetic and in my soul. I have to connect with something greater than my guitar.

‘It becomes a real drag to play perfect concerts and by that I mean perfect notes. That was a 70s aspiration – to play perfectly all the time. The real goal is to connect and share and communicate a joyful version of life, to bring awareness and elevation. So for this reason, I am not into academic playing. Sometimes people become ‘professional’ students, which means they’re great at copying music. Great artists do their own thing and put out something special.

‘Aaron Shearer taught me how to control my playing and achieve a standard that would allow me to perform at a high level consistently. From Bruce, I learned how to do something special with the music and connect it to the beauty of living. My whole life I’ve wanted to be on stage and convey the joy of playing. I get a good deal of satisfaction from not hiding behind the guitar, while at the same time not letting ego and vanity get in way.’

In the middle of this interview Cobo had to answer the door to sign for a delivery from Colombia. Between the sounds of wrapping paper tearing away, I heard him exclaim, ‘This is so good-my mother just sent me one of my uncle’s paintings.’
‘My uncle was a wonderful painter who studied architecture during WW II. I grew up seeing his paintings around the house and the images never left me. They were just emblazoned on my mind. Having spent precious time with him as a kid, I learned I had a talent for painting. When he died, he left his work in the family. My mother has just airmailed me this large painting from Colombia. It’s of a bullfighter fighting in the ring. I love to paint and studied graphic design myself, along with computer graphics. Painting and playing compliment each other in profound ways.’

Our conversation veers to the buzz surrounding Tom Humphrey’s distinctive painted guitar, which Cobo played at the Mannes New York Guitar Seminar this past summer.

‘Humphrey has always struck me for his remarkable vision and conviction about guitars. I own three of his Milleniums, which all have powerful sustain, focus and projected sound. With Tom, it’s not about how accurately you play his guitar but what you do with the palette of sound and how you manage all the machinations of colour. You find that what turns you on in terms of complexity, colour and potential is what makes you say, “I can design a better musical line on this instrument’.

‘I find other popular makers of guitar to be very predictable, which is fine if that is what you want. But I enjoy responding to the parameters of the guitar and his are particularly elastic.’
Cobo happily divulges that he has recently married his girlfriend Julie in a ceremony where guests hiked up the scenic Zion Canyon in southern Utah with backpacks in tow. A year ago, they had hiked up this same canyon on a seven to eight hour trek and found themselves lost on a yellow plateau, surrounded by crevasses and two enormous walls, which he describes as being like the Grand Canyon, only a much smaller version.

We made it down to the road in the pitch dark, terrified we’d be jumped by a cougar. We had one torch between us with a dwindling set of batteries.’ he says. Apparently they had both vowed, unknown to each other at that moment, that if they managed to make it back to town alive, they would marry each other.

Since Cobo usually hikes with a Yamaha backpacker and often brings along scores of music that he is either arranging or learning, he probably had less to fear than he might have realized. Perhaps we should reconsider that earlier Roy Horn remark that all it would take to allay any desert cougar would be a Las Vegas pro with a bullfighter’s spirit and some serious lullaby chops, grounded in classical guitar.

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“Whoops and roars” at a …Classical guitar concert?

» 23 April 2008 » In Reviews » Comments Off on “Whoops and roars” at a …Classical guitar concert?

At the intermission of the April 23 classical guitar concert featuring Ricardo Cobo and Christopher McGuire at UNLV’s Doc Rando Recital Hall, I overheard two different groups of friends jokingly refer to their hanging out between acts as “tailgating.” It made me laugh, then think. Classical guitar in Las Vegas? Of course, there is no cultural reference point for this in a city of clubs, neon and millionaire productions. So Las Vegans at such an event must import concepts from that world to make sense of what they’re seeing and hearing.

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Aaron Shearer

» 23 April 2008 » In Uncategorized » Comments Off on Aaron Shearer

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

IMG_1406

Aaron Shearer is the Father of American Classic Guitar. For those of us who studied with him, ‘Mr. Shearer’ revealed a powerful and comprehensive method that transformed our lives. As a teacher he was uncompromising with his musical and artistic integrity and awe-inspiring in his precision and clarity. As a person he was profoundly generous and deeply concerned about each and every one of us. He would take a handful of students for summer sessions to Lewiston, ID, where he grew up. Throughout the hot, dry summer he would regularly ride his bike, to teach daily lessons and performance development classes. Summers in Lewiston were a kind of “special ops” guitar study- we were immersed in playing, visualizing, and performing all day. It was Mr. Shearer’s favorite time of year. For us, it was magic.

The six years I studied with Aaron will remain the most significant and defining period of my life both as a student and professional. He was like a father to me and remained a dear and caring friend throughout my career. Aaron’s passing represents a monumental loss for the guitar and music world. 

Aaron codified a revolutionary pedagogical method that redefined the Art of the Guitar and gave birth to an entire generation of players and teachers. Aaron didn’t just write about the guitar, he made it a formal discipline backed by a lifetime of extensive research and developed the Gold standard by which players are judged today.

– Ricardo Cobo, Las Vegas, NV

Ricardo is probably the finest student I’ve produced in seventy years of teaching. He represents the fruits of my labor. As a player, no one can touch him.”

-Aaron Shearer November 15, 2007. Dana Auditorium, Guilford College, Greensboro.

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Las Vegas Sun

» 24 November 2006 » In Interviews » Comments Off on Las Vegas Sun

Colombian leads musical journey across Latin America

By Timothy Pratt

Fri, Nov 24, 2006 (7:05 a.m.)Click here to find out more!

Given today’s climate – when Hispanic in many people’s minds means “Mexican” and Mexican means “illegal” – Colombian guitarist Ricardo Cobo’s sold-out concert Tuesday night at UNLV’s Doc Rando Hall somehow acquired added meaning.

Not that Cobo crafted his nearly all-Latin American program with any stated political intent.

But cultural displays from an artist with the talent and sensibility of the sort Cobo possesses have a way of making a point sometimes, beyond the beauty of the displays themselves.

Cobo – who left his native city of Cali as a teenager and became the first Hispanic to win consecutive prizes at the Guitar Foundation of America International competition – comfortably engaged an audience of 300 on a musical trip from Brazil up to Cuba, with stops in Argentina, Paraguay and Venezuela, and a side trip to France.

The guitarist, who has lived in Las Vegas since 2000, visits his tropical valley birthplace when he can and spends six months a year on the world’s classical music stages. It’s a life that adds up to a performer and person who breathes both U.S. and Latin cultures , and is expert at bridging the two.

From the start, Cobo dipped into the Latin American grab bag of intense emotions, with a lyrical piece by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer that he reprised at the end of the concert, dedicated to his father.

Then he switched things up, announcing, “We’re going to start the dancing part early,” with a fast tune from the Venezuelan plains written for harp. The speed challenged Cobo at times, but the rhythmic force of the piece carried him forward.

Before lovingly launching into “Dos Valsas,” two pretty pieces by Brazilian composer Dilermando Reis, Cobo told the audience they were about to hear “high-class schmaltz.”

He knows how north-of-the-border eyes see the romance in Latin lives.

Then, without being pedantic, he added, “This was before bossa nova, before samba.”

About to tackle Argentine Maximo Diego Pujol’s homage to his radical compatriot, Astor Piazzolla, Cobo noted: “If you don’t know his (Piazzolla’s) music, you’re missing a whole universe of music in the 20th century.”

His right hand, relaxed as a tai chi master, strummed and slapped through the Argentine avant-garde, strongly displaying that country’s melancolia.

After the intermission, Cobo stopped in Cuba with a modern piece by Eduardo Martin that somehow manages to fit the head-bopping Cuban dance rhythm, son guajira, under the same musical roof as dense, contemporary classical flourishes.

“A lot of unusual things have come out of Cuba,” Cobo said before playing the piece, “but we never hear of it.”

After the song, he riffed, “You gotta love the Cubans. Rock ‘n’ roll, blues and all of the above.”

More bridges built.

The rest of the program featured three tangos, all Cobo’s arrangements – including an impressive musical wrestling match with the difficult maestro himself, Piazzolla.

Dressed in black and equally modest in character, Cobo called the piece “a little more virtuosic” than the rest.

But though he had no problem with the technical demands of the complexly urban but lyrical composer, what most reached the listener was Cobo’s feeling for the music.

It was clear the music Cobo played for a full house, from the rich and immensely varied continent of his birth, is in his blood.

And his hands.

 

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The Washington Post

» 25 July 2006 » In Reviews » Comments Off on The Washington Post

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Grace Notes Elevate Alexandria Guitar Festival

The annual Alexandria Guitar Festival is one of the undiscovered gems of the summer music scene, bringing some of the planet’s best classical guitarists to town for a week of intimate and always interesting recitals. The seven-concert series closed, alas, over the weekend — but not before showcasing some spectacular talent.

The Colombian guitarist Ricardo Cobo may be one of the finest guitarists of our time — certainly he’s a first-rank interpreter of Latin American music, as he showed in the tango-flavored second half of Saturday’s program. From the driving “Acrilicos en Asfalto,” by Eduardo Martin, to smoky cafe music from Horacio Salgán and the classic “La Muerte del Angel,” by Astor Piazzolla, Cobo has the smoldering sensuality of Latin music deep in his blood, and played with heart-clenching passion.

— Stephen Brookes

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American Record Guide. Spring 2004

» 01 April 2004 » In Reviews » Comments Off on American Record Guide. Spring 2004

March/April 2004

American Record Guide
Piazzolla, Brouwer, Pujol, Carlevaro, Reis, 
Salgan, Villoldo, Pereira
Ricardo Cobo—Naxos 557329—60 minutes

It was initially hard for me to muster enthusiasm for yet another potpourri of Latin American guitar miniatures. But when the guitarist is Ricardo Cobo it doesn’t much matter that there is a glut of such releases. The Colombian-born Cobo, a winner of several international competitions in the late 80s, is a world-class talent, possessed of stunning technique, penetrating musicianship, and a beautifully refined sound. I cannot imagine more satisfying or engaging interpretations of this music; his readings are incisive and vigorous in the fast pieces, dark and soulful in the more contemplative works, and every phrase is shaped by an impeccable musical instinct.

Several works here are presented in new arrangements by Cobo, including Piazzolla’s well known tangos ‘La Muerte del Angel’ and ‘Primavera Porteña’, which serve as bookends to the program. His arrangements offer refreshing new insights into these often played pieces; the works sound fresh and alive, as though one were hearing them for the first time. Considering the ubiquity of Piazzolla these days, both on the guitar and in other settings, this is no small feat.

The works that come between the two Piazzolla tangos range from the unassuming waltzes of Dilermando Reis, which Cobo plays with incomparable poetry, to the more ambitious Elegía por La Muerte de un Tanguero by Máximo Diego Pujol, a three-movement homage to Piazzolla. This piece is harmonically richer than some of Pujol’s other works, especially the haunting ‘Melancolía’ movement, and Cobo invests even its simplest passages with an expressive depth and interpretive commitment that make the whole utterly persuasive. This charismatic interpretive voice is everywhere in evidence here, transforming what initially appears to be an ordinary recital into a truly extraordinary listening experience. With each sterling passage Cobo confirms his position as one of the finest guitarists of his generation.

RINGS

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San Antonio Express-News

» 22 October 2000 » In Reviews » Comments Off on San Antonio Express-News

October 22, 2000

Guitarists strum up success
Festival features Cuban composer, additional talents

The guitar world enjoyed a love fest Friday night when Cuba’s Leo Brouwer, the most revered living composer for the instrument, conducted his own “Toronto” Concerto and other works for the Southwest Guitar Festival. Travis Park United Methodist Church was nearly filled with about 1,000 listeners, including locals and registrants for the Guitar Foundation of America’s international convention, which ran concurrently with the festival.

Conducting a San Antonio Symphony chamber orchestra, Brouwer opened with music from Mexico – Silvestre Revueltas’ “Homenaje a F. García Lorca” and Manuel Ponce’s “Concierto del Sur,” with guitar soloist Gonzalo Salazar. Brazilian guitarist and composer Egberto Gismonti was represented by “Sert¢es e Veredas I” for strings.

The finale was Brouwer’s Concerto No. 4, composed for John Williams and first performed in Toronto. The soloist here was the remarkable Ricardo Cobo. Brouwer began his career as a nationalist, then followed the European avant-garde of the ’50s and ’60s, and finally, tiring of hermetic modernism, settled into an attractive, individual romanticism, the style of this concerto. Two traits unite all of Brouwer’s styles – a highly fluid form of rhythmic complexity, recalling the African influence on Cuban music, and generosity of spirit.

This is music by a man who has discovered wonderful sounds and rhythms and is eager to share them with his friends. Though craft and virtuosity and intellect undergird every bar, the music comes across as natural, joyous and humane.

The “Toronto” Concerto is notable for Brouwer’s wonderful way of combining the colors of the guitar and the instruments of the orchestra; Brouwer painted as a young man, and this is painterly music. Cobo’s performance, too, was characterized by generosity of spirit, to say nothing of knockout virtuosity. His playing was extrovert, lyrical, rhythmically alive. Every line knew where it was going. His tone had a deep gloss and brilliant highlights. Salazar’s patrician style and elegant technique were well suited to Ponce’s concerto. The Revueltas piece desperately needed more rehearsal, but Gismonti’s, a sort of Brazilian hoedown, came off well.

mgreenberg@express-news.net
Memo: MUSIC. Section: Metro / South Texas
Edition: Metro Page: 3B Record Number: 515213
Copyright 2000 San Antonio Express-News

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Soundboard Magazine: Cobo’s Brouwer Vol I

» 15 October 1999 » In Reviews » Comments Off on Soundboard Magazine: Cobo’s Brouwer Vol I

Just for the Record.  James Ried.  Fall, 1999. Comments – The several times I have seen Ricardo Cobo perform, I have been very impressed by his combination of facility, musicality and intensity. All these characteristics are abundantly present on this fine disc. Every selection is carefully and convincingly rendered down to the last note. In the “Etudes Simples”, for example, he can be lyrical and tender, or fiery, according to the needs of each study. In his performance of his “Danza Característica,” articulation and a wide dynamic range are combined to craft a powerful interpretation. The “Fugue No. 1” is an example of wonderfully clear contrapuntal playing, and the “Guajira” that follows is equally impressive, as it represents the romantic side of Brouwer’s personality. As I listened to this CD, I was reminded of what a powerful composer Leo Brouwer was and still is. These pieces, mostly examples of his early works, speak as forcefully now as they did when they were first written, and one could not ask for a more eloquent interpreter of these works than Ricardo Cobo.  

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Los Angeles Times: Cobo, Guitar Duo Show Rare Prowess

» 01 July 1996 » In Reviews » Comments Off on Los Angeles Times: Cobo, Guitar Duo Show Rare Prowess

 July 1996.

Cobo, Guitar Duo Show Rare Prowess

Setting-and raising-standards for students and public alike is part of what programs such as CSU Summer Arts is all about. Today at Cal State Long Beach’s Daniel Recital Hall, the guitar and lute faculty continued to do its part, with fresh, highly effective performances from Ricardo Cobo and the Newman and Oltman Guitar Duo.

Indeed, Cobo set the bar so high that despair must have been as much a part of the package as inspiration for the students in the audience. Armed with a cup of coffee as well as his guitar, Cobo strode onstage clearly ready to melt nylon and mesmerize listeners. By way of unscheduled introduction, he offered a movement from Leo Brouwer’s tricky “Decameron Negro” and then delivered a pair of Astor Piazzolla tangos with rare definition and’ characterful nuance.

No matter what the pace, the Colombian guitarist neither contorts the rhythmic spine of the music nor cheapens the colors, as he proved deftly in the fanciful Sonata that Brouwer’ wrote for Julian Bream. ‘ And then he turned to display pieces. Graceful musicality was as evident as superhuman technique in an unhackneyed troika from Eduardo Sainz de la Maza, Antonio Lauro and Roland Dyens.

For the second half of the evening, Michael Newman and Laura Oltman offered the series’ first ensemble installment. Having performed together for almost 20 years now, they form an assured and synergistic partnership. They” too, are able to play expressively at speed, as they demonstrated with the motor energies of “Horo,” by the young Bulgarian composer Atanas Ourkouzounov. Dusan Bogdanovic’s rhythmically punchy Sonata Fantasia, also Balkan folk-inspired, gave them greater opportunity, to display their interpretive prowess. Their loving arrangements brought a measure of revivification to five Isaac Albeniz staples, although the rubato-laden performances often bordered, on over-interpretation. In encore the duo offered a sprightly account of John Dowland’s four-hands, one-instrument novelty “My Lord Chamberlain, His Galliard.”

JOHN HENKEN

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Seattle Post-Intelligencer

» 01 April 1996 » In Reviews » Comments Off on Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Monday, April I, 1996 C3 
MUSIC REVIEW 
Cobo’s remarkable show played tribute to Seattle’s own Morrant

By RM. CAMPBELL 
P.I MUSIC CRITIC

Guitarist Ricardo Cobo’s concert at Seattle Pacific University’s Bach Theatre Friday night was remarkable for its impeccable taste, fluid technique and clarity of design.

As such, the recital by this hugely talented Colombian-born musician was a fitting tribute to Wynn Morrant- The longtime president of the Seattle Classic Guitar Society who died last year.

A well-known teacher of guitar who taught at SPU and Seattle University, Morrant was one of the city’s most important exponents of classical guitar. Her activities were wide-ranging, not only in Seattle, and always aimed at achieving a wide audience for the singular beauties of the guitar.

As president of the 38-year-old society for more than two decades, Morrant was responsible for bringing to Seattle a number of notable guitarists, including Julian Bream, Benjamin Verdery, Paco Pena, David Russell, Oscar Gighlia and William Kanengeiser.

Cobo is the sort of artist she would have booked, for he demonstrates the quality of his breeding at every turn. Invariably he delivered the goods with textural clarity, control and passionate musicianship.

His program was almost entirely derived from this century: A polonaise of the 19Ih-century French composer and guitarist Napoleon Coste was the only exception.

The rest of the evening included works ranging from those of the Cuban-born composer Leo Brouwer to a couple of tangos by Astor Piazzolla of Argentina and a waltz by Nikita Koshkin of Russia, as well as works by Eduardo Sainz de la Maza, Antonio Lauro, and Roland Dyens.

Cobo has high regard for Brouwer and calls him “one of the great 2Oth-century figures in the history of the guitar.” As such, Cobo is recording a great deal of his music. Thus, be said at Friday night’s performance, the generous inclusion of Brouwer’s music: a fugue to open the concert, followed by the suite, “El Decameron Negro,” which takes its programmatic inspiration from Boccaccio’s 14th-Century “Decameron,” and a Sonata composed in 1990.

The concert probably would have been better off with less Brouwer. While each work has its merits, they blend together when heard in rapid succession.

Nevertheless, “EI Decameron” has plenty of individual color and charm, which Cobo elucidated with his suave manner.

The Sonata was equally diversified: especially the imagined conversation between Antonio Soler of 18th-century Spain and Beethoven of 19th-century Germany in “Fandangos y Boleros,” and the scattered hints of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin in “Sarabanda de Scriabin.” Cobo’s response was one of soft warmth and power.

Interwoven with his Brouwer mix was a handful of engaging works by Piazzolla and Koshkin. The two Piazzolla tangos, “La Muerte del Angel” and “Primavera Porteña,” possess the composer’s characteristic combination of beguiling melodies and piquant rhythms. Cobo has obvious sympathy for Piazzolla’s unique style which he delivered with his uncommon sense of lucidity and graciousness without robbing the music of its robust flavor.

To Koshkin’s “Usher Waltz,” based on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Cobo brought intensity coupled with lightness of touch.

Proceeds from the concert will help the McKenna-Morrant Scholarship Fund at the Seattle Classic Guitar Society.

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