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Classical Guitarist Eliot Fisk

Eliot Fisk

The classical guitar — and for that matter, the instrumental root of every head-banging Guitar Hero rocker — goes back to the lute and Spanish vihuela.

In the 18th century, the modern six-string guitar emerged for a heyday. It came back, classically, with Spanish great Andres Segovia in the 1920s. And half a century later, Segovia handed the tradition to a young Eliot Fisk.

Now virtuoso in his own right, Fisk carries the torch for a musical tradition — and a role for the guitar as exquisite cultural bridge.

This hour, On Point: A conversation with classical guitar virtuoso Eliot Fisk.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Eliot Fisk joins us in our studio. He is a world-renowned classical guitarist, one of the great Andres Segovia’s last students. Segovia called him “brilliant, intelligent, and gifted,” an artist “at the top line of our artistic world.” King Juan Carlos of Spain honored his contributions to Spanish music. He teaches at the Universitat Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, and at the New England Conservatory in Boston. He’s founder and artistic director of Boston Guitarfest, an international festival now in its fourth year.

Here’s a (very casual) video of Eliot doing his sound check  in our studio before the show. He’s practicing the “Phrygian Pick,” from the final movement of Robert Beaser’s Guitar Concerto.  He talks with On Point producer Stefano Kotsonis. The video was shot by our intern Molly Connors:

And here you can watch Eliot perform an excerpt from the final movement of Guitar Concerto — which premiered at Carnegie Hall last month — for Tom and members of the On Point staff in our studio after the show:

Following is the playlist of pieces heard during the broadcast, in the order in which they were played:

1. Manuel Ponce: Prelude
from “Segovia: Canciones Populares” (1996 CD)

2. Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of the Alhambra), by Francesco Tarrega (Granada, 1896)

3. Spanish Dance No. 5 by Enrique Granados
A duet by Eliot Fisk & Angel Romero at Boston Guitarfest 2008.

4. Finlandesa: Quasi Andante
from “Segovia: Canciones Populares” (1996 CD), a Finnish folk tune transcribed by Andrés Segovia

5. Two Pieces from Siglo de Oro: “Cancion del Emperador” (Narvaez-Josquin, 1538) and “Fantasia Que Contrahace la Harpa de Ludovico” (Alonso Mudarra, 1546, Seville)

6. Scarlatti: Sonata in A Major
A duet by Eliot Fisk & the great Mexican castanet player Lucero Tena.

7. Paganini: Capriccio No. 23 in E-Flat Minor
Version 1 (guitar): From “Paganini: 24 Caprices”(1992 CD by Eliot Fisk).

Version 2 (violin):  From “Paganini: 24 Caprices for Solo Violin, Op. 1” (1989 CD by Midori).

8. Two Etudes by Leo Brouwer (b. 1939)

9. Ciaccona by Johann Sebastian Bach

10. Paganini: Capriccio No. 24 in A Minor
from “Paganini: 24 Caprices”(1992 CD)

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  • BHA

    Does Mr. Fisk use steel or nylon strings and why?

    I LOVE that style of guitar music. Mr. Segovia was a marvel. Julian Bream is another of my favorites.

  • http://www.vpr.net Joe Goetz

    I interviewed Eliot on VPR last summer when he was a guest at the Vermont Mozart Festival. We only had an hour, and I wanted to talk to him more about his Baroque transcriptions, specifically Scarlatti…maybe on this program he could talk a little bit more about his Baroque interpretations and the difficulties in emulating the harpsichord…?

  • Mike

    amazing music, will look into what else he plays

  • Greg Stoute

    I am a 57 year old male and starting to tear up when I heard that last piece. Oh my God!

  • Elizabeth

    is there a published recording of Mr. Fisk playing the Memories of Alhambra???

  • john oleary

    Hello Guys
    great dhow ..

    I have an 11 year old GUITAR HERO ADDICT…..

    He is musically talented ..
    how do I get him to play REAL MUSIC..

    He has played violin at school for a few years …
    now he is bored with that instrument …

    Any ideas..

  • sally renata

    Listening to Fisk, I feel the way I do when I read Garcia Lorca. It is as though the sounds are so ancient, they have a free pass to your soul.

  • Paul Ugalde

    I was in the audience when Mr. Fisk appeared with the VT Mozart Festival last summer. In a beautiful meadow in Stowe, Vermont, under a summer sky, he enchanted us all with Concierto de Aranjuez, my absolute favorite guitar piece. There was a smile on his face as he played this marvelous work, decked out in red sneakers. I was mesmerized, even when the rain began to fall. A treasured memory. Thank you.

  • Steve

    I am 47 and started classical guitars lessons 1 1/2 years ago.

    1) What advice do you have for students that struggle with the vast amount of information and techniques that need to be learned to play classical guitar?

    2) Are there fundamental rules or philosophies they you learned as a young player or from Segovia that you always refer back too every day.

  • praveen misra

    I wanted to mention, the cultural roots of this music goes even further in time and land. Moors had brought in best of the musicians from all the way “India”. That is why there so much of similarities i find and of course just love the sound thats playing in my ears :).

  • http://OnPoint sam wired

    love classical guitar, but even more the flamenco passionate masters.
    please ask mr. fisk to talk about the intertwined history of the classical and flamenco guitar styles.

  • Marvin Wilkenfeld

    My most memorable experience was being at Avery Fisher hall in the 1980′s., sitting in the first row center, almost at the foot of Maestro Segovia. The hall was sold out and when Segovia played there was not a murmur of cough from the entire audience.
    Some of the audience brought their guitars as to have them blessed in the atmosphere of this great musician.
    Thank you Elliot for carrying on the tradition of classical guitar.

  • http://www.artistsatlargeinc.org tommey

    Just what needed to hear while going about my day. Reminds me of the importance of music and art in everyday life. Thank your for your show on Elliot Fisk.

  • David Chastain

    The Spanish language is not unique in the sounds that Eliot Fisk mentioned. Perhaps hasn’t noticed that many European languages do have gutteral sounds. German, Yiddish, and Polish come to mind. I’m sure that other eastern European languages have such sounds as well. Perhaps by “other European languages” he means English, French, and Italian.

  • Julie Rohwein

    Thank you so much for this lovely show! What an antidote to a grey day and a rather sad week.

  • Jackie

    I loved hearing the Tarrega piece, which my father used to play. “Unspeakably beautiful” indeed! Of all the stringed instruments, the guitar is to me the most intimate and the most heart-breaking. Thank you so much!

  • Matt Carson

    I’ve only just tuned in for the last bit of the broadcast, but I am bothered by Mr. Fisk’s insistence that classical guitar is hard. I am by no means trying to belittle the classical guitar, or Mr. Fisk, who is quite good, but continually using the words ‘hard’ and ‘difficult’ puts up unnecessary barriers to all players, both professionals and students alike. As a classical bass player, I find pianist Kenny Werner’s view much more helpful: essentially, there is no hard music, only unfamiliar music. I think it is more important to encourage progress through a slow, steady learning process, than to discourage it by insisting that is very hard.

  • Sojourner

    And I care that these two men were classmates at Yale because…?

    Yet another example of why Tom Ashbrook needs to have his ego surgically removed. Here’s still another… Instead of milking the sycophantic compliments that topped this program, he should have said a simple “thank you” and immediately moved on to content listeners case about…

    Let him listen to Diane Rehm or Leonard Lopate and learn how to handle himself and situations such as this…

  • Putney Swope

    Excellent show! A great musician.
    What Eliot Fisk said about music and poverty has been proven. Witness the The Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar (Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra) is a Venezuelan youth orchestra. They have a music program that is designed to give poor children in Venezuela music lessons and they all play in orchestras of different levels. Some have gone on to be world class musicians.

    Gustavo Dudamel is one of the graduates of this great program. Why we don’t have this in this country is beyond me.

  • Mara Rozitis

    When I heard the subject was classical guitar and Eliot
    Fiske, I thought “boring”. I’m so glad I didn’t
    change stations. The beauty of “Memories of the
    Alhambra” had me in tears and I can’t wait to explore
    his music and look up some CD’s.

    What a great education that was!

  • Winifred Grace

    What a wonderful program today. You brought back one of my favorite memories of all time. Your teacher, Andre Segovia was in concert in Paris in the early 60′s when as a young bride, my husband and I had the privilege of listening to him. He made us feel like he was playing just for us in our own livingroom yet being in this magnificent concert hall filled with other admirers as well. It is no wonder you are such a fantastic muscian having had such a man for your teacher! Blessings!!!

  • Thomas Camarda

    As Mr.Fisk was a student and disciple of Mr. Segovia and Segovia had postulated that a transcription is successful when “it is better than the original” Is the example utilized here of Mr. Fisk’s Youtube performance of his own transcription of Paganini’s 24th Caprice an example of an “improvement”? Indeed, is it even an equal to the violin original? Ears vary, but I’ll ask this of Fisk, his disciples and any other classical guitarists for whom the popular music appellation of “shredder” can be applied, if any other instrumentalist in the classical music disciplines showed up playing in a manner of abandon where clear note rendition was secondary to tempo goals, where harsh and percussive note rendition were secondary to clean tone considerations, would those instrumentalists be lauded as geniuses? Possibly so, especially if their adoring audiences were comprised of guitarists for whom it seems lately, athleticism in playing is confused with aesthetics.

  • Ann

    John Oleary, has your son listened to Cajun and Zydeco music? Cajun, of course is tamer and 6 beats; Zydeco is probably TOO sexy for an 11-year-old to even RECOGNIZE how sexy it is, but he will NOT be able to miss the extraordinary ENERGY in it, AND he’ll hear the same 8-beat form that he’ll recognize from most rock n roll. Maybe you know these musical forms well, so forgive me for being so pedantic (and, I know the music from the viewpoint of a dancer, not a musician), BUT both musical forms use the violin (fiddle!) in a driven, athletic way that a kid might really enjoy! Plus, his friends could learn to DANCE to the music he provides! Where I live, there are several Cajun and Zydeco dances every month, and I live in New England, not Louisiana; SO, by the time he is a teen-ager, he can create a great job for himself AND bring live music and dancing into his community! That’s sort of what Mr. Fisk said happened to him (w/o the dancing). There are so many great CD’s available for both; I’d recommend Zydeco, just because it is wise and youthful all at once!

    To today’s show: THANK YOU! THANK YOU! I enjoyed the music beyond…beyond! and, Mr. Fisk, thank you for your thoughts on music and diplomacy and education! Yes! How great it would be if you could speak to the Congress about your thoughts on these matters…and EVERY general assembly of every state!

    Tom, the last two weeks of shows….what EXTRAORDINARY VARIETY! I am as much a fan as Mr. Fisk! Thanks to you and your amazing staff!

  • Ann

    Mr. Fisk,

    Actually, I should have added: “if you could speak to” the UNITED NATIONS!!!

  • Heidi

    Eliot Fisk is a wonderful guitar player. He participated among other big masters on the 17th Guitar festival in Koblenz, Germany from May 25th- June 1st. 2009. I was also attending his solo evening show on Tue 26th. 2009 in the music hall of the Rhein-Mosel-Halle in Koblenz.

    The program included very difficult pieces:

    -Joaquin Turina: Fantasia Sevillanas op.29
    -Domenico Scarlatti 4 Sonatas
    -J.S. Bach Suite in D-major, BWV 1012 (Prelude, Allemande Courante Sarabande, Gavotte I, Gavotte II, Gigue)
    -Luciano Berio Sequenza XI (dedicated to Eliot Fisk)
    -Robert Beaser: Sjendandoah
    -Niccolo Paganini 3 Capricci

    At the end after many encores and stormy applauds by the audience he said:

    “Considering all the fights and disputes among other musicians, it seems the guitar players are mostly peaceful minded creatures. First of all it is embeded in the great difficulties to play the instrument well, so that it challences continuously one’s own unrelenting modesty.”

    Isn’t this just wonderful!!!!

    Location: 79006 Freiburg/ Germany

  • Paula Tigerman


    I am a long time afficinado of classical guitar and studied extensively during 1970-1980. Listening to this program has evoked beautiful memories and reinforced why I was and am enamored with classical guitar!

    Thank you for this wonderful program of music. Kudos to Mr. Fisk!

  • Monika Kienzle

    I heard your guest performance on Tom Ashbrook’s On Point this morning on WMRA. It was a real treat. I grew up in Berlin, Germany where in 1963 my American fiance invited me to a concert by Andre Segovia. I am so glad that you used your musical talent to keep his memory alive. And thank you, too, for not giving up during the Dark Ages.
    Monika Kienzle

  • John Oster

    Thank you for this wonderful program today. There is really no one like Eliot Fisk. Few can touch his breath-taking virtuosity, passion, and drama, not to mention his untiring efforts to inspire composers to write for him. Through his commissions and daring transcriptions, Eliot has expanded the previous limits of the guitar.

  • Edie Roland

    Has Eliot Fisk recorded Recueridos de la Alhambra? Wonderful program with truly beautiful music. Thank you! Boston is fortunate to have the talented Eliot Fisk teaching here.

  • http://www.caminoguitarras.com Federico Sheppard

    How fortunate we are to have had this program material made available to so many people in all walks of life. The guitar has the ability to inspire, heal, and strengthen the human heart. Please, more programs like this ! ! !

  • http://www.linguitar.com Steve Lin

    I love Eliot! What a beautiful show!

  • Jack De Witt

    I’d never heard of Eliot Fisk until I was listening to “On Point” Friday in my truck. I pulled up to my favorite BBQ restaurant (McCabe’s) at Manning SC but there were a good 20 minutes left in the program. Now I just love their BBQ the best & had driven 35 miles in anticipation of it. But I stayed in the truck, listening to Mr. Fisk talk & play for the show’s entirety. Fisk is a joy; his playing is super but also his ease & clarity in explaining historical links. I’d like a Fisk concert in South Carolina.

  • Pingback: Eliot Fisk on NPR’s OnPoint | Eliot Fisk

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