“virtuosic playing characterized by its vividly shaded colors and irresistible exuberance…”
– The New York Times
The soul of the Spanish guitar runs in Pablo Villegas’s blood. Born and raised in La Rioja, Spain – the country with unique and deep ties to his chosen instrument – Villegas is distinguished by performances as charismatic as they are intimate. With his singing tone and consummate technique, his interpretations conjure the passion, playfulness, and drama of his homeland’s rich musical heritage, routinely drawing comparisons with such legendary exponents of his instrument as Andrés Segovia. Indeed, at just 15 he won the Andrés Segovia Award, launching a succession of international wins that include Gold Medal at the inaugural Christopher Parkening International Guitar Competition. The first guitarist to win El Ojo Crítico, Spain’s top classical music honor, Villegas also became the youngest of his generation to appear with the New York Philharmonic, in an auspicious debut under the late Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos at Avery Fisher Hall. He has since performed for both the Dalai Lama and the Spanish royal family, and it was he who gave the world premiere of Rounds, the first composition for guitar by five-time Academy Award-winner John Williams. A born communicator, the guitarist explains: “Music is a social tool, and opening people’s hearts, and helping them connect to the inner life of the emotions, is my mission.”
Villegas launches the 2015-16 season with the international release of his solo album, Americano, which marks his debut on the Harmonia Mundi label. Exploring the multiple guitar traditions of the New World from tango to bluegrass, this colorfully eclectic selection features the world premiere recording of Williams’s Rounds; music from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story; preludes by Brazilian master Heitor Villa-Lobos; and the popular standard Granada by Mexico’s Agustin Lara. In concert, Villegas makes no fewer than seven orchestral debuts in the coming season, with ensembles including the Pacific, Cincinnati and Santa Barbara Symphonies, Norway’s Bergen Philharmonic, and Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra, where he reunites with Alondra de la Parra. Following his triumphant debuts with the two orchestras last season, the guitarist also makes welcome returns to the Pittsburgh and Oregon Symphonies.
Known for a sound so rich and full that it does not need amplification, Villegas’s concerto collaborations regularly inspire immediate reengagements. Since his international breakthrough after his triumphs at the 2003 Tárrega Competition and 2006 Parkening Competition, he has appeared with orchestras in more than 30 countries, including the New York, Los Angeles, and Israel Philharmonics, and the Boston, San Francisco, Houston, and Toronto Symphonies. He made a series of important debuts under the baton of Frühbeck de Burgos, and has enjoyed fruitful collaborations with conductors including Giancarlo Guerrero, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Carlos Kalmar, Jean-Jacques Kantorow, Helmut Lachenmann, Juanjo Mena, Alondra de la Parra, and composer George Crumb. Last season, Villegas enjoyed an increased American presence, making debuts with seven U.S. orchestras. For his first appearances with ensembles including the Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Oregon Symphonies, he played Rodrigo’s soul-stirring Concierto de Aranjuez, a signature work that also served as the vehicle for his collaboration with Spain’s National Radio & Television Orchestra (RTVE). In recital, he appeared at Carnegie Hall, the New York City Classical Guitar Society, the Guitar Foundation of America Convention, the Grand Teton Music Festival, Puerto Rico’s Festival Casals, and Italy’s Merano Festival, as well as in duet with violinist Augustin Hadelich at Ohio’s Linton Music Series and Germany’s Rheingau Music Festival.
Dedicated to expanding the guitar’s repertory and audience, Villegas is an ardent champion of new music. Besides John Williams, whose Rounds he premiered at the 2012 Parkening Competition in Malibu, he has worked closely with contemporary composers including Sérgio Assad, of whose Concerto of Rio de Janeiro, written for and dedicated to Villegas, he gave the world and European premieres at the Guitar Foundation of America Convention and Cordoba Guitar Festival. He has also given first performances of works by Maria Dolores, and looks forward to premiering a new concerto by Lorenzo Palomo in the 2016-17 season.
An active recording artist, in addition to making his Harmonia Mundi debut with Americano Villegas recently recorded a trio of Rodrigo concertos with the National Orchestra of Spain, thereby becoming the first in more than 20 years to capture the Concierto de Aranjuez with the ensemble. His previous releases include Histoire du Tango, a collection of violin-guitar works with Augustin Hadelich for the AVIE label, and Manuel Ponce’s Concierto del sur, a platinum title that he recorded with Alondra de la Parra for Sony Classical. Besides inspiring rapturous reviews on both sides of the Atlantic, Villegas has been featured on Spain’s national television and radio, and in such leading Spanish outlets as El Mundo. His U.S. coverage includes interviews on Fox 5, WQXR, and other local stations, and a cover story in Classical Guitar magazine.
In 2007 Villegas founded the Music Without Borders Legacy (MWBL), a non-profit organization that seeks to bridge cultural, social, and political boundaries through classical music. Since its inception, the foundation has reached more than 15,000 at-risk children and youth around the world, through music programs in the U.S.A., Mexico, and Spain, and is now supported by La Caixa Bank. Villegas also serves as cultural ambassador for La Rioja’s Vivanco Foundation and its Museum of Wine Culture, considered the most prestigious wine museum in the world.
Born in 1977 in La Rioja in Northern Spain, Villegas was inspired to take guitar lessons after seeing Segovia on television. He gave his first public performance at just seven years old, and went on to graduate at the top of his class at the Royal Conservatoire in Madrid. After several years in Germany, in 2001 he relocated to New York City, where he studied for his Masters and Doctorate with David Starobin at the Manhattan School of Music, and where he lives to this day.
For more information please visit pablosainzvillegas.com
Pablo Villegas last performed for La Jolla Music Society in the Discovery Series on April 10, 2011.