Michael Nigro brings complex stylings with classical guitar


Tank's topped off with classical gas.

Pedal to the metal.

"I just want to play music that appeals to anybody, whether you have a Ph.D. in music theory or you're somebody who has never heard classical guitar," says Michael Nigro. "I want to touch everybody equally, the same."

Intent on weaving a classical spell with an instrument most budding musicians long to rock out on, Nigro brings his complex stylings to the Clark County Library on Saturday. Drawn to the music of South America and particularly Argentina, Nigro has released the CDs "Homage to Piazzolla" (tango composer Astor Piazzolla) and "Guitar Sudamericana," taking on pieces by such masters of the genre as Jose Luis Merlin, Jorge Morel and Eduardo Falu.

"Nigro has a big sound, a smooth tone and sure-footed interpretive instinct," wrote the American Record Guide.

Splitting his touring time, Nigro gives solo performances, such as his Vegas engagement, as well as duo performances with flutist Lisa Schroder, calling themselves Noteworthy Duo. That's when he isn't occupied with his duties at Vanguard University of Southern California, where he teaches classical guitar.

Here, Nigro discusses choosing a nontraditional approach to guitar playing in a rock-saturated world:

Question: Were you always attracted to the classical guitar rather than rock?

Answer: No. One of my favorite bands was Rush, watching them play and the complexities of their music. (Guitarist) Alex Lifeson did some solos on nylon strings and I liked the sound. I listened to the Police a lot, (guitarist) Andy Summers, and U2, the Edge, guitarists that had a very unique, distinct sound so the chords they created fascinated me.

Q: How did studying classical guitar win out over playing rock?

A: I was actually in a punk rock band as a teenager, it was called Corrupted Ideals. We had two CDs we put out on a record label. That was how I channeled the music as a teenager.

But I had heard some old Andres Segovia albums, and something about it made me want to play it. I was always interested in a more complex style. At 18, I started getting into classical, even the whole time when I was playing punk. I started looking into college and majoring in music, and I found you could major in classical guitar and steamroll that way.

Q: Did you ever regret missing rock's glamour and fame?

A: No. It was the aesthetic. With a lot of rock music, style becomes the substance. Three chords for the verse, three chords for the chorus. In classical, it's almost like there's zero style and it's all about the substance. But most musicians as they get older, they're able to look back and see music as a broad continuum so the energy you find in rock music isn't that much different from the energy you find in a Beethoven sonata, or the anger and sadness. It transfers over easily for any musician, if they're a true musician.

Q: Why are you so focused on South American music?

A: For my master's degree, we had to do recitals, and just by doing a little snooping around, I found that South American music and, in particular, music from Argentina, they have a vast amount of composers that are new people composing new works for guitar. You'd think Argentinian music would all sound the same, but music from Buenos Aires, stylistically, is different than music in the Pampas (South American lowlands) or the Andes region. There's more composers coming out of Argentina than other countries. Colombia may have one or two great composers and Venezuela a few, but Argentina, the list would just scroll down endlessly.

Q: Critics have complimented your habit of speaking to the audience in live shows. Is this unusual in this genre?

A: When you're a trained classical musician, especially when you're in school doing recitals, not only are you not encouraged to talk to the audience, but it's not acceptable. You look back in history, some of the great pianists and guitarists got up there in their tuxedos and played very stoically. For me, that felt detached.

The first time I went to a concert and I heard the performer speak, I was immediately thrown back, like wow, this person not only has a voice but expresses their opinion about the piece and throws in some brief background. I'm not talking about an academic dissertation, but I was able to enjoy it that much more because I understood where the performer was coming from and, historically, what the piece was about. And I have been in contact with the composers, so I was able to ask them about the pieces so it's firsthand knowledge from the composer.

Q: One critic, Jim Ruggirello of the Long Beach Gazette, said this about you: "Guitarists have to be able to play melody and accompaniment at the same time, while differentiating the two and also provide their own percussive effects. All of these tasks Nigro performed with ease and a sense of style." Can you expand on what he meant?

A: If you think of someone who plays guitar, they're mainly providing accompaniment for singers, so they'll be strumming with a pick. But when you play classical guitar, it's as if you are watching somebody play piano, playing the melody, but at the same time also providing all the accompaniment notes. The guitar can also be a percussive instrument, so you can do some interesting tapping on the side of the guitar or a thunk on the bridge. It's pretty common to play a melody at the same time you're playing bass notes so it gives the illusion if you've never heard classical guitar that there's two different guitars playing.

Q: Does it require a different style to perform in your duo with a flutist?

A: It requires the guitar to be a little more humble because the flute is playing a lot of the melody, and it's a louder instrument so the guitar is working really hard just to be heard. And you do have a beautiful girl playing so we can do a full concert and the guitar gets half as much attention.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

 

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