Con­nected by strings

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos - James M. Keller The New Mex­i­can

David Starobin, who ap­pears as soloist with the Santa Fe Sym­phony Or­ches­tra this week­end, is revered in the world of the clas­si­cal gui­tar not only for his mu­si­cal vir­tu­os­ity but also for broad­en­ing his in­stru­ment’s reper­toire. More than 300 new works have been writ­ten for him by an A-list of com­posers that in­cludes such no­ta­bles as Ge­orge Crumb, El­liott Carter, Mil­ton Bab­bitt, Lukas Foss, and Gunther Schuller. Starobin be­gan study­ing gui­tar at the age of 7, grad­u­ated from the Pe­abody Con­ser­va­tory, be­came the first gui­tarist ever hon­ored with Lin­coln Cen­ter’s Avery Fisher Ca­reer Grant, and, from 1993 through 2004, chaired the Man­hat­tan School of Mu­sic’s gui­tar depart­ment, which he built into one of the most pres­ti­gious gui­tar pro­grams in the world. He still teaches there, oc­cu­py­ing the school’s An­drés Se­govia Chair, but he felt he needed to re­duce his in­volve­ment in or­der to re­store bal­ance to his three-pronged mu­si­cal life. Apart from teach­ing, his ca­reer in­cludes a busy per­for­mance sched­ule and con­stant work as di­rec­tor of artists and reper­toire for Bridge Records in New Rochelle, New York, which he and his wife, Becky, founded in 1981 and which cur­rently re­leases about 35 CDs ev­ery year.

Fit­ting ev­ery­thing in takes some jug­gling. “I prac­tice ev­ery morn­ing,” Starobin says, “but it has got­ten so that the only way I can do that is to wake up ear­lier and ear­lier. Now I of­ten get up at 5:30 or 6, prac­tice for a cou­ple of hours, and head to the of­fice by 9 to put in a full day’s work as a record pro­ducer.” Bridge used to be con­sid­ered a small la­bel, but it has at least held steady while most of the long-stand­ing mega­liths of the clas­si­cal record­ing in­dus­try have re­trenched. In any case, it has al­ways qual­i­fied as a ma­jor la­bel in the world of con­tem­po­rary mu­sic. Al­though it has re­leased its share of stan­dard clas­si­cal reper­toire, usu­ally per­formed by in­trigu­ing mu­si­cians who stand a bit to the side of the main­stream, the la­bel’s niche ex­per­tise is con­tem­po­rary mu­sic. The com­plete works of Crumb (so far reach­ing to 14 com­poser­su­per­vised vol­umes), eight vol­umes of works by Carter, CD af­ter CD of mu­sic by Mario Davi­dovsky, Poul Rud­ers, and Paul Lan­sky — such is the fo­cus of Starobin’s work at Bridge, which has been hon­ored with 20 Grammy nom­i­na­tions and three Grammy awards. “If this were a huge com­mer­cial en­ter­prise,” he ob­serves, “you’d say it was ridicu­lous. It’s cer­tainly not a model for any busi­ness I’ve ever heard of. The core of our com­pany is the ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the art it­self, and that’s what al­lows us to forge on.”

Starobin’s pas­sion for the mu­sic of our time should not be taken to sig­nal an aver­sion to ear­lier reper­toire. His per­sonal discog­ra­phy, which reaches to about 50 re­leases on Bridge and other la­bels, in­cludes clas­sic gui­tar works by the likes of Luigi Boc­cherini, Fer­nando Sor, and Mauro Gi­u­liani, and he has done more than any­body to re­fur­bish the faded rep­u­ta­tion of Gi­ulio Re­gondi, trum­peted through two Bridge re­leases as “the 19th cen­tury’s un­par­al­leled gui­tarist and con­cer­tin­ist.” In Santa Fe, Starobin plays one of his in­stru­ment’s sem­i­nal con­cer­tos, the Concierto del Sur, writ­ten in 1941 by the Mex­i­can com­poser Manuel Ponce. A work rich in Mex­i­can folk­loric fla­vor, it shares the pro­gram with the vi­brant Sin­fonía In­dia (1935-1936) by Ponce’s com­pa­triot Car­los Chávez, pieces by the Brazil­ian com­poser Joaquim Serra and the Spa­niard Joaquín Ro­drigo, and a new work by the Santa Fe Sym­phony’s mu­sic di­rec­tor and con­duc­tor, Steven Smith.

The Concierto del Sur was one of nu­mer­ous con­cer­tos writ­ten for the ven­er­ated Span­ish gui­tarist An­drés Se­govia, who ex­changed ex­ten­sive cor­re­spon­dence with Ponce while the piece was be­ing coaxed into ex­is­tence. “Se­govia was very opin­ion­ated about what he liked and didn’t like,” Starobin says, “so the re­vi­sions in this piece be­came very much a prod­uct of both hands. This has led to some tex­tual prob­lems, be­cause all of Ponce’s gui­tar mu­sic ini­tially ap­peared in edi­tions by Se­govia. An as­pect of Se­govia’s per­son­al­ity was im­posed on the

David Starobin

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