The Restless Guitar Of David Russell Currently touring his new CD, Sonidos Latinos, Scottish-born guitarist David Russell explores the rich sounds of Latin America in NPR's studio.
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The Restless Guitar Of David Russell

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The Restless Guitar Of David Russell

The Restless Guitar Of David Russell

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

(Soundbite of music)

The other day, David Russell played for us in our performance studio, 4A. Russell is one of the most acclaimed and prolific classical guitarists around. He records about an album a year. His latest is called "Sonidos Latinos." It's music from Latin America.

Russell has received too many awards to mention, and he's even had a concert hall and a street named for him in Spain. That's where he lives, and that's where he grew up.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: David Russell, welcome to the program and to Studio 4A.

Mr. DAVID RUSSELL (Musician): Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: And I want you to tell us a bit about your interesting background. You're a Scotsman by birth, but you grew up in Minorca, in Spain.

Mr. RUSSELL: That's right. My parents are artists, and they decided they would prefer to paint in the Mediterranean rather than in Scotland. So when I was about five or six, they loaded us into a van, and we went to Spain, and we ended up living in Minorca purely by chance actually, because they really wanted to go to Ibiza because Ibiza was famous as a kind of artistic colony. But the boat wouldn't take our van. But the Minorcan one did. So we ended up there.

SIEGEL: And the guitar? Was either of your parents a guitarist?

Mr. RUSSELL: My father is an amateur guitarist. He still plays. He's 86, and he still loves it. And he was my first teacher.

SIEGEL: Tell me about preparing a piece to play in concert and to record. First of all, which comes first? Do you decide, I'll try this out in the concert hall and see how they react or is it already something you've decided to record?

Mr. RUSSELL: Both ways, actually, comes really, I have no set way, but the recording has to be I have to project at least a year or two in advance as to what I'm hoping to record. Also, because in recordings, I try to stick to one style, each CD is usually within one style. So I usually have some of that repertoire in the concert program.

SIEGEL: Could you play us an example of that?

Mr. RUSSELL: Well, here's a piece that is from South America. And this is actually by Hector Ayala, and it's a gato.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: You said that's a gato?

Mr. RUSSELL: Gato, yeah, like a cat.

SIEGEL: When you immerse yourself in a style, is it just the music or do you read about the period? Do you talk to people who are more familiar with it than you? What's the process?

Mr. RUSSELL: Reading about it, listening to other people who do it very well. You know, for example, with the South American CD, South American style, in some ways it's in that gray area of where's the edge of classical music and where's the beginning of pure folk music? And this, it really does sit at the edge.

The sort of things that the classical players are not very good at, and many of the folk players are really good at, is certain rhythm elements of strumming, especially in Flamenco. They use the (unintelligible)...

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RUSSELL: You know, for example, (unintelligible), the famous...

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RUSSELL: There, Rodrigo(ph) was hearing the Spanish guitar, but many people kind of split it up with...

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RUSSELL: And then plucked, as opposed to because it's kind of awkward for us because it's not normal for us to do it.

SIEGEL: You have a couple of pieces on the album "Sonidos Latinos" by the Brazilian composer Neves(ph).

Mr. RUSSELL: Yes, Armangenio(ph), as they called him, his nickname. I didn't know about his pieces until just before recording. He was actually a soccer player and later on, he developed more as a musician. But he never learned to write his own pieces, so although he's a wonderful player, his pupils and friends wrote down the pieces. So I'd like to play the "Choro."

(Soundbite of song, "Choro")

SIEGEL: What a beautiful piece.

Mr. RUSSELL: Yes, lovely, isn't it?

SIGEL: Lovely piece. When you make a recording, in your mind, when you have the perfect sound, do we hear the sounds of your fingers on the strings? You know, do we hear the sound of an actual person there who's manipulating this instrument or is it a more distilled sound coming out of the guitar?

Mr. RUSSELL: Well, I really like to hide all those things. I mean, that's a little bit like wearing a really nice suit. I don't want people to know my underwear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RUSSELL: You know, these are little things that are there, the little clicks in the finger especially, to demonstrate the squeaks.

(Soundbite of squeaking)


Mr. RUSSELL: I mean, on the guitar, the guitar can be a really squeaky instrument if you're not right.

SIEGEL: Well, they make us, or for that matter, when we hear a pianist breathing throughout a recording, they make us in our minds, I think, see the musician performing.

Mr. RUSSELL: Perhaps, yeah, which is one of also enjoying it. I find sometimes the breathing and the sniffing and things sometimes make me see them suffering because I know that I make more noise when I'm suffering, whereas if the person is breathing comfortably and enjoying the music, I know I don't make any noise when I'm in that state.

SIEGEL: Well, David Russell, thank you very much for playing pieces for us from your new album. I'll let you play part of one more before you go.

Mr. RUSSELL: Okay, I'll play the other one by Armangenio.

SIEGEL: This is his waltz?

Mr. RUSSELL: Yeah.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: David Russell's new album is called "Sonidos Latinos," and you can hear more of his music at

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