A Few Words With...Jason Vieaux

Interview and photos by John A. Wilcox

Classical guitarist Jason Vieaux has been building a reputation as a forward thinking, boundary expanding player for years now. His playing on albums like Sevilla: the music of Isaac Albéniz and Manuel Ponce, The Guitar Sonatas is sensitive and passionate. Images of Metheny, where he takes Pat Metheny classics and reinvents them as classical guitar pieces, is as daring as it is beautiful. Progsheet is pleased to spend time with this virtuouso...

PS: What was the first record you recall buying?

JV: John Williams The Art of the Spanish Guitar…either that or Pyromania by Def Leppard.

PS: Who was the first classical guitar player you saw live & what effect did seeing that performance have on you?

JV: I think the first solo guitarist may have been a Buffalo-based player named Robert Secrist. I remember sitting far away, but admiring his playing. He was the best-known solo player in the area at that time. I of course heard my first teacher’s group (Jeremy Sparks and the Buffalo Guitar Quartet) several times. The first times I heard Parkening and Bream were very memorable, because they were at Kleinhans Music Hall. However, David Russell made the biggest impression on me as a live performer, without question. He was just musically and instrumentally on a higher level than anyone one else I’d heard. All of these performances would have been within a few years of each other.

PS: What was the first guitar you ever owned?

JV: A 3/4 –size guitar that I still have, there’s no label on the inside.

PS: The majority of young players tend to gravitate towards being a pop, rock, or jazz player.What about classical music connected with you & guided you down that path?

JV: Early on, I was motivated by the fact that classical guitar music took more skill to play at a high level than any other form of guitar-playing.

PS: How many hours on an average day do you practice?

JV: 2 – 3 hrs.

PS: When I saw you in Stamford, you played Rodrigo's Concierto De Aranjuez. What about this piece stands out in your mind & why do you think it remains such a popular number?

JV: The perfect 2nd movement and cadenza.

PS: You play a Gernot Wagner guitar - quite a pricey beast! Tell me what about it makes it worth the investment?

JV: It’s a great instrument – an excellent balance of power, precision, musical and expressive flexibility, and beauty.

PS: What lead to you deciding to adapt Pat Metheny songs into a classical style on Images Of Metheny?

JV: Just for my own enjoyment initially, I was really trying to make solo arrangements that sounded like the recordings. Then the Baroque Suite and tremolo piece The Bat came later.

PS: Was there any song that was more challenging than the others to adapt?

JV: Probably the Baroque Suite and tremolo piece The Bat, because they weren’t meant to evoke the original, they involved more composition from my end.

PS: In 2001 you recorded a wonderful album of Manuel Ponce guitar sonatas. What do you feel makes Ponce stand out as a composer?

JV: His versatility and darkly poetic slow movements.

PS: Many out there think of Segovia, Parkening, and a few others when they think of classical guitar. In your travels, is there anyone you've run into that isn't getting the recognition you feel they ought?

JV: This might sound funny to classical guitarists, but I honestly don’t feel that even David Russell and Manuel Barrueco are getting the recognition they deserve outside of the small confines of the classical guitar community; certainly not compared with the substanital body of work that they’ve put together and consistently displayed over 30 years of performance. I think they deserve 100 times the number of devotees that they currently have. If they were to receive more recognition, it would also make things easier for future generations. Of the younger players, Colin Davin is a very special talent.

PS: I'm in my late 40's, and I tend to feel like I'm in the younger 10% of the audience at classical shows I've attended in the Northeast. Are there parts of the world where the younger contingent is a greater percentage, that you have observed?

JV: Occasionally, and I think that will increase if we are willing to do more and more outreach to schools. If government takes music out of schools, it is still possible (and happening now) to bring it “live and direct” to kids. Astral Artistic Services in Philly is one such organization for which I’ve done many outreach performances.

PS: When you are learning a new piece of music, what do you look for in the piece to emotionally connect to? For example, what did you connect with in the Rodrigo piece we discussed earlier?

JV: If I’m performing or recording a piece of music, it’s because I don’t have to look for anything to get connected to emotionally – that involves zero effort on my part. The effort from my end is practicing it until the music/composition is communicated as clearly as possible to the listener.

PS: What recording projects can we look for from you next?

JV: Bach Lute Works BWV 995 – 998, and I’d like to record a CD of Brouwer’s music. Concerto and string quartet/guitar CDs are also on my wish list.

PS: Please tell me 6 CDs you never tire of listening to.

JV: I’ll give you six “non-classical” CDs and six pieces of “classical music” (there are many others):
Ahmad Jamal - Live at the Pershing
Beatles - The Beatles (White Album)
Weather Report - Mysterious Traveller (and I’m not entirely sure why)
Steely Dan - The Royal Scam
Pat Metheny Group - First Circle
Shudder To Think - Pony Express Record (the musical audacity and chops of this DC-area post-hardcore group’s 1994 release is still fun as hell)
Stravinsky - Le Sacre du Printemps
Carissimi - Jepthe
Ravel - Daphnis and Chloe
Mahler - Symphonies
Beethoven - Symphonies
Schubert - Piano Sonatas D. 958 - 960


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