Goldfingers

Why the classical world is sending love letters to Dallas guitarist Carlo Pezzimenti

On a recent rainy Monday night, classical guitarist Carlo Pezzimenti performed for about 40 members of a college class taught by friend and fellow Brookhaven teacher Larry Gordon. Anyone who's seen Pezzimenti perform knows what happened the instant his fingers hit the nylon strings: The Carlo hush fell over listeners as the guitarist and his sometime accompanist, pianist Marta Urrea, strolled through a program of composers most in the audience heard for the first time that night--Villa-Lobos, Brower, and Ponce.

At the end of the performance, during a question-and-answer session, one young woman stood up and said to Carlo, "Do you realize you were making love to that guitar?" then upon learning that Carlo spoke French, she took him a piece of notebook paper after class. On it, she had written several English sentences she wanted him to translate. One of them read something like, "I want to be your wife, your lover, your whore."

"This music affects people in so many different ways, I'm sometimes surprised with the things people tell me," Pezzimenti says with a laugh. "This woman obviously felt it in a very sensual way. She kept asking questions about the relationship between Marta and myself. Marta's husband was sitting in the audience near me. I finally had to point him out and say, 'Ma'am, there's absolutely nothing going on between us, I swear.'"

A friend of this 45-year-old former Andres Segovia disciple, 20th-century Spanish classical advocate, and digital poet tells me that other "Carlo groupies" have had similar reactions to his passionate live shows. Pezzimenti, who holds faculty positions at both Texas Woman's University in Denton and Brookhaven College in Dallas, is probably best-known locally for his free solo concerts in the Dallas Museum of Art, Borders Books & Music, and the Jewish Community Center. But he's also received a pile of love letters from the international classical community. In addition to regular concert appearances across North America and Western Europe since the '70s, Pezzimenti has toured Romania as a featured performer at the invitation of its government in 1995; his recitals were aired on Romanian national television. He's also recorded a concert for broadcast on National Public Radio. Gramophone bounced a national spotlight his way when they reviewed his CD Mosaic as a pick-of-the-month, and he gets reams of glowing newsprint from the international cities he plays.

Off the stage, when Carlo Pezzimenti gets passionate about a subject, he begins to wave his hands in the air. That's not surprising; he's Italian, after all, and being a classical guitarist, he's accustomed to expressing raw emotion with his paws.

We're discussing the various musical moods of the great composers. Rather, Carlo is discussing them and I, a neophyte who's always felt a little intimidated by what Pezzimenti describes as "the vast architecture of classical music," am hurriedly jotting down names and symphony numbers for an informed trip to the all-classical Blockbuster next to Southern Methodist University. When I tell him that a previous intimate who turned me on to Satie and Shostakovich, among others, had been forced to quit his piano studies early because of juvenile arthritis, Pezzimenti's eyes get big, and he glances at his own smooth, long-nailed hands. They suddenly look as ultraprecious as the last two Stradivariuses on the planet.

"Oh Jesus, oh God," he opines, and rests his palms on the wooden table between us. "Poor guy..." He shrugs and looks around, overcome by the contemplation of what is, for him, a particularly fresh hell. "I can't even imagine..."

During several long and intense conversations, Carlo Pezzimenti's fleet and furious gray cells are in high gear. He is often moved to broken sentences and silences, stopped in his conversational tracks by the recognition that something is beautiful, repugnant, terrifying, or humbling. These communication breakdowns in the presence of pure emotion happen whether he's talking about classical music, or popular culture, or politics, although the borders that separate these topics are often blurred: Pezzimenti is given to comparing the non-musical to the musical, and vice versa. In Carlo's world, there is no reason to separate the two.

As a result, he is good-naturedly impatient with fellow artists who forget their role in the larger scheme: "Sometimes when musicians get so caught up in their own craft, the music gets lost," Pezzimenti says with a sigh. "They let the technical aspects bog them down. It's the same with the whole society; we're obsessed with technology, interested in the means rather than the end. When I see a musician doing that, I want to ask them 'But what is the music for?'"

Carlo Pezzimenti's rapturous classical guitar reveals what he calls "the mystery of life, the imponderable," performed in concerts across Dallas, the American continents, and the world, often for audiences whose major reference points are Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. His show is an education for many otherwise seasoned classical listeners, because he specializes in the Spanish greats of this century--not always the most popular bunch with symphony orchestras in major American cities, whose high ticket prices don't engender a sense of adventure or experimentation among their patrons.

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