Goldfingers

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

Pezzimenti plucks another memory from his earliest studies with Segovia, the image of a fellow student executing a pristine but rather dull "Granada" by Albeniz before the master. When the young man had finished, Segovia asked if he'd ever been to Granada. The student replied he had not.

"Go to Granada, find a lovely Spanish girl, look into her eyes, and fall in love," the teacher instructed him. "Then come back and practice Albeniz."

In a sense, Segovia told the young man to find something inside the composition that corresponded with something inside himself. Cowed by its general ignorance of classical music, the American public assumes that knowledge is a kind of required clearance procedure to access the power of the music. Awareness of the pioneers, the historical periods, and the styles certainly facilitates your journey through the dense foliage of your favorite music store's classical section, but it can't create that sacred intimacy between artist and individual. The trick is to find the composers and their consummate interpreters who address parts of you that existed before you discovered the music. A conscientious, nurtured appreciation will, in turn, reveal elements of yourself you hadn't detected before the music.

Artists like Carlo Pezzimenti are the shamans in this ritual, and it's sometimes difficult not to worship the priest who turned you on to the religion in the first place. Cole Porter may have been one of the American stage's preeminent tunesmiths, but as anyone who's listened to his own versions of Porter songs can attest, it takes an Ella Fitzgerald or a Frank Sinatra to highlight the artistry of his tunes. In the same vein, writers like the Brazilian master Heitor Villa-Lobos and the contemporary Cuban composer Leo Brower are reliant on the tender touch and goosebump-raising restraint of a Carlo Pezzimenti.

During our conversations, Carlo and I frequently laughed about how difficult it is to capture the experience of great music with words. And yet, he doesn't think language is necessarily inadequate.

Upon his birth in Ohio, Carlo was raised in a household where both English and Italian were spoken. The latter was especially important, as he spent a considerable amount of his childhood in Italy with a father who tried his hand at everything from winemaking to acting. Multilingual, he finds echoes of musical virtuosity in the poetry of various countries. Indeed, poetry is his second love. Carlo has played alongside poets like James Mardis and former Dallasite Tim Seibles. Two years ago he composed a piece based on a poem his wife wrote which was, in turn, inspired by a Borges poem called "Adam Cast Forth." Not surprisingly, he cites Borges' work and the delicate, subconsciously charged lyrics of another legendary 20th-century Spanish master, Federico Garcia Lorca, as two modern pinnacles of language.

When his burgeoning talents took him to Spain for study, the supple artistry of Spanish composition infected his bloodstream, and he has never recovered. He says he learned the language eagerly because he wanted to wring every sublime cultural nuance from its modern composers. This music is an epiphany to Carlo, and in explanation of his lifelong devotion to it, he offers a lengthy quote from Albert Camus:

"A man's work is nothing but the slow trek to rediscover through the detour of art those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened."

"I've tried to bridge that insidious gap between music and the rest of life," Pezzimenti says. "An artist who cares about his message won't let himself get in the way of it. When he's dealing honestly with an audience, he says, 'Let me share this with you.'

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