Archive for February, 2014

the dreams of pink martini

pink martini and the von trapps

pink martini and the von trapps.

As he prepared music for a Christmas tree lighting celebration two winters ago in his hometown of Portland, Thomas Lauderdale – founder and overall musical mastermind of the wildly multi-cultural pop ensemble Pink Martini – received a call from the Oregon Symphony.

The orchestra, for which Lauderdale serves as a board member, was welcoming to town the von Trapps – four great grandchildren from the singing family that inspired The Sound of Music over a half-century earlier and now a professional vocal group with a zest for the same kind of global musical cuisine favored by Pink Martini.

“The symphony called up and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got the von Trapps. Do you mind if they come onstage with you?’ said Lauderdale. “So I, who loves The Sound of Music and have only wanted to again and again play Lonely Goatherd (The Sound of Music’s popular yodeling song), just flipped out. So they came onstage and it was love at first sight. Then I made a few recommendations about pieces they might consider adding to their repertoire. Suddenly, we’re working on a full fledge collaborative album.”

On Tuesday, the full fruits of that alliance will be released by way of a new recording, co-credited to Pink Martini and the von Trapps, titled Dream a Little Dream. But on Friday, both groups, along with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, bring their own sound of music to life with a performance at the Singletary Center for the Arts.

“It was such a natural fit,” said Sofia von Trapp, 25, of her siblings’ collaboration with Pink Martini. “It just happened so organically because we love Thomas’ tastes. We completely fell in love with his style and arrangements and how friendly the music sounded. But it was also really smart and interesting.

“I called him up about two months after that and asked if he had any musical suggestions because by that time, we were a little stagnant with our music. We weren’t even sure if we were going to continue singing. We loved it but we didn’t have a really strong direction to go in. So we thought, ‘You know, Thomas Lauderdale would probably know some really interesting things that keep us going.”

Lauderdale’s suggestion was a playful 1920s German folk song Die Forfmusik, which becomes a polka party of sorts on Dream a Little Dream with the von Trapps’ vocals dancing alongside Lauderdale’s piano accompaniment like snowflakes. The song takes its place on an international summit of an album that also includes the Israeli lullaby Hayaldah hachi yafa bagan, a Brazilian carnival treatment of the ABBA hit Fernando, a version of the title tune prefaced by a snippet of Debussy’s Clair de Lune, three songs from The Sound of Music (including Edelweiss, sung by Charmain Carr, who portrayed Liesl in the 1959 film version of the musical) and three more originals composed by the youngest of the von Trapps, 19 year old August.

“My goal with this album was to give the von Trapps as much of an education as I could in terms of how to put an album together and, basically, how to have a career and not depend on anybody else,” Lauderdale said. “So I feel like this album does that. It allows them to go into any direction that they think fits from this point forward, which is very exciting.

“I felt so nervous that they would be mismanaged by… well, somebody. This way, they’ve got their own education and they can choose to do whatever they want to do.

“I never really talk about our albums very much or try to sell them,” said von Trapp. “But I really believe in this one. Thomas has been such a blessing in our lives, so I’m really excited about people hearing it.”

Pink Martini with the von Trapps and the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra perform at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose St. Tickets are $35, $45, $55. Call (859) 257-4929 or go to

critic’s pick 326: lake street dive, ‘bad self portraits’

lake street diveMaybe they just caught me at the right time, but taking in last weekend’s sneak preview of spring with the windows open and Lake Street Dive’s extraordinary new pop party album Bad Self Portraits blasting from the speakers sure made it seem as though winter’s days were indeed numbered.

A quartet of wildly resourceful writers, singers and instrumentalists, the members of Lake Street Dive met as students at the New England Conservatory of Music. They have operated as a band out of Boston and Brooklyn for the past decade. But Bad Self Portraits, a set of sunny, ultra alert tunes steeped in pop and soul tradition that never sound unduly retro, may well prove a career breakthrough.

The most immediately arresting aspect of the band’s sound is the singing of Rachael Price, whose clear and unaffectedly rustic voice sounds like a cross between a young Bonnie Raitt and Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard. It can elongate with the easy blues-soul strut of Bad Self Portraits’ title tune, wail with vintage girl group command (ably assisted by the band’s roaring, Shirelles-like back-up harmonies) during Stop Your Crying and bark with rhythmic authority over the percussive, Little Feat-style groove of What About Me.

Then we have the songs – 11 in all and not a dud in the bunch. Lyrically, the tunes seem wary and more than a little self effacing. “Another night wasted in my parents’ basement,” howls Price on Rabid Animal (penned by bassist/pianist Bridget Kearney). “Don’t know why I didn’t chase it when I was hot on its trail.”

 Later, during the after-hours Beatlemania of Rental Love (also by Kearney) the mood is similarly resigned as Price works up a brilliant torch song lather (“When we were doing the slow climb, the peak was a foregone conclusion”). And for pure revivalistic fun, there is the brilliantly titled Bobby Tanqueray (written by drummer Mike Calabrese), a pop star renegade anthem Price drapes in layers of deflated infatuation.

For sheer musical ingenuity, Bad Self Portraits hits a homer with Seventeen (another Kearney tune) that operates almost like a suite with three rotating melodies. The third is a brilliant deceleration into a slow burn guitar run by Mike Olson that sets up the song’s weary punchline:”I wish I met you when I was seventeen, before I’d seen the things I’d seen.”

What a worldly resolution for one of the smartest pop parties in ages. Don’t wait for spring, though, to get in on the fun. Crank this one up now.

in performance: ‘night’ – simone dinnerstein and tift merritt

Simone Dinnerstein-Tift Merritt

tift merritt and simone dinnerstein.

The song best defining the song cycle Night that Simone Dinnerstein and Tift Merritt brought to quiet but exquisitely emotive life last night at the Weisiger Theatre of the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville was also the juncture where the largest number of contrasting inspirations intersected.

The tune was Billie Holiday’s Don’t Explain, a work sung by Americana stylist Merritt with tasteful, torchy reverence. But the performance wasn’t fashioned after Holiday’s original version, even though the elegantly desperate tone of Merritt’s vocals more than once summoned Lady Day’s divine sadness. Instead, last night’s reading took its cue from Nina Simone’s smokier, more spacious interpretation. While Merritt sang the blues of Holiday, Dinnerstein – one of today’s most heralded classical pianists – played them. The resulting music seemed almost emancipating with each artist stepping ever so modestly away from the sounds and styles audiences most readily associate them with.

The 14-song suite, dubbed Night (and released as a recording of the same name last year), was performed in its entirety last night, forming the bulk of the 90 minute concert. There were a few extras, including Dinnerstein’s solo piano reading of Schumann’s In the Evening that introduced the unhurried yet beautifully rich touch off her playing, and a pair of haunting, fragile-sounding tunes from Merritt’s 2012 album Traveling Alone (Small Talk Relations and Spring). But the program was essentially the Night recording performed in sequence.

There were highlights galore within the suite, from a version of Schubert’s Night and Dreams that concluded with hushed wails on a pair of harmonicas by Merritt that sounded like softened calls from the wilderness, Dinnerstein’s romantic but exploratory runs through The Cohen Variations (a deconstruction of the Leonard Cohen classic Suzanne) and a plaintive reading of the Johnny Nash pop-reggae hit I Can See Clearly Now served by Merritt as a morning prayer that ushered Night into the dawn of a “bright sunshiney day.”

The show stealer, though, was the Merritt original Colors, where lyrics of almost prophetic uncertainly (“What will I know tomorrow that I do not know today?”) were complimented by single note chimes plucked directly from the piano strings like a harp by Dinnerstein. It was one of the many moments that gave Night its very luminous presence.


in performance: luke bryan/lee brice/cole swindell

luke bryan

luke bryan. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

Six songs into Luke Bryan’s sold out performance last night at Rupp Arena, the pace and agenda for the evening appeared to be set.

The music was all power pop fury, from the show opening party anthem That’s My Kind of Night to the melodic, retro-fitting Someone Else Calling You Baby. All of it came with plenty of guitar ammo and technical gusto, too – enough to bolster the reedy timbre of the Georgia born country star’s voice and make the resulting program arena worthy enough to keep the Rupp crowd of 18,000 on its feet for a full 90 minutes.

Then something curious occurred. After pausing momentarily to apologize for   postponing the concert from January after his stage was damaged during a post-show load out in Columbus, Bryan sat down at an upright piano situated on a large disc shaped platform that sat in the middle of the arena floor.

“Hey, Dwight Yoakam is from Kentucky,” the singer stated. With that, he launched into a seemingly impromptu medley of three early hits popularized by the Pike County native – I Sang Dixie, Honky Tonk Man and Guitars, Cadillacs. It wasn’t the sleekest moment of the show. Bryan handled the bulk of the tunes on his own with his band scrambling to find a way in. But for a concert that was otherwise devoted to a near static representation of rootless, rockish and often numbingly modernized country pop, the Yoakam set was refreshingly heartfelt.

Then again, Bryan was covering the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis dance hit Can’t Hold Us later in the set with opening acts Lee Brice and Cole Swindell in tow, enforcing how fleeting the nod to country tradition was.  Lest we forget, the whole production began with Bryan standing atop a full blown pickup truck that rose out of the floor stage. Oh, and did we mention singer and truck were surrounded by flames? It was a true Spinal Tap moment.

While the truck has long been one of the great fallback symbols of contemporary country, it was usurped last night. Hands down, the country music product of choice throughout the performance was – you guessed it – beer.

All three acts sang love songs to the libation. Show opener Swindell, a singer with phrasing that approximated hip hop as much as country, offered Brought to You By Beer – perhaps the most shameless brew tune of the evening. Brice, whose 50 minute set yielded the night’s most honestly emotive, energetic and stylistically diverse performance, kept the sentiments uncluttered with an ode titled simply Beer.

Bryan offered two – the deceptively titled Drink a Beer (which wasn’t a beer drinking tune, per se, but a curiously stoic reflection) – and the swampy Drinkin’ Beer, Wastin’ Bullets, which was prefaced with the war cry of “How many deer hunters we got here tonight?”

The alcohol and firearms avenue may not have exactly the most formidable thematic path for this show to take. But given how readily the three acts at Rupp championed the suds last night, it’s a safe bet you’ll see at least one of them saddled up to a big label brewery endorsement sometime soon.

a little night music

night 1

tift merritt and simone dinnerstein. photo by lisa-marie mazzucco.

The design of the alliance fascinates before you hear a single note.

Representing one musical community is Simone Dinnerstein, an internationally acclaimed classical pianist considered one of the foremost interpreters of Johann Sebestian Bach of her generation. From another musical terrain altogether is Tift Merritt, a veteran from a decades-old alt-country movement who has since become regarded as an Americana songwriter of intense personal reflection.

How did they happen to cross paths? A better question might be when: Nighttime.

On their 2013 recording Night, Dinnerstein and Merritt create a genre-free, nocturnally themed song cycle. The song sources are purposely scattered. It places Merritt originals alongside highly adapted works by such varied artists as Franz Schubert, Billie Holiday, Henry Purcell, Patty Griffin, jazz pianist Brad Mehldau and even Dinnerstein’s beloved Bach. Musically, however, the performances are strictly duets with Dinnerstein on piano and Merritt on guitar, vocals and, during a version of Schubert’s Night and Dreams, gorgeously plaintive harmonica.

“The nice thing about this collaboration was that it really was a long process,” Merritt said. “It’s something we first began maybe three years ago. By the time we were in the very beautiful theatre where we recorded it (The American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York), we had been able to have enough time to dig into where our worlds really were at. I don’t think that was something we could do quickly or superficially. I practiced the program so much and rehearsed it so much in the beginning. Now, performing it again is like going back to a muscle I didn’t know I had and getting to flex it.”

“I think this project has really pushed me a lot,” added Dinnerstein. “It’s definitely made me think differently about the classical repertoire that I’m playing. Just the fact that I took so many liberties from the classical music that we interpreted and yet it all felt so right together has made me think that I could definitely push myself to greater risks with the repertoire I’m playing in my normal recitals.”

Having been introduced to each other by Gramophone magazine, Dinnerstein and Merritt discovered an immediate professional and personal bond. Still, finding the common musical ground so beautifully displayed on Night required each to take several steps outside of their artistic comfort zones.

“Tift is really an intense and serious musician,” Dinnserstein said. ”I’ve learned a lot from working with her. She’s extremely dedicated in terms of how she rehearses, and then the way that she performs is particularly striking to me. She’s almost the musical equivalent of a Method actor in that she really becomes the music during the concert. Afterwards she is just so emotional from the performance, which is completely understandable because she puts so much into it. I think that people in the audience feel the energy that comes from her during the concert. Certainly, I do.”

“It was such a scary leap of faith for me to play with a world class musician like Simone who is so proficient in the language of the music,” Merritt said. “It really was terrifying at first. But in the end, having held my own, it gives me some confidence. It’s the kind of thing where when you begin taking risks, you are able to take more risks and build on that until it becomes so much more rewarding than scary. I think in my own work, I’m now able to bring that ability to risk more. But I’m also able to appreciate my own sort of sweet spot and why I do what I do having ventured into all of these other places.”

“Night”: An Evening with Simone Dinnerstein and Tift Merritt.  8 p.m., Feb. 22 at the Weisiger Theatre of the Norton Center for the Arts, 600 W. Walnut St. in Danville. Tickets are $30. Call (877) 448-7469, (859) 236-4692 or go to

oh, yes, he’s the great despiser

joe pug

joe pug. photo by todd roeth.

On a sweltering June evening five summers ago, a songwriter took the stage at Cincinnati’s un-air-conditioned Memorial Hall as a complete unknown. His job, no pun intended, was to warm up a sold-out audience for a solo concert by Steve Earle.

By the end of the 40-minute set, the buzz had started. The artist seemingly no one in the house had heard of had left his mark.

His music was full of the conversational charm one would expect from an accomplished folk artist, but something else was at work. Songs like Nation of Heat, I Do My Father’s Drugs and Bury Me Far (From My Uniform) had the kind of narrative flow and detail that made them seem like full-blown vignettes — theater pieces, for which the singer onstage was, in effect, as actor and narrator. No wonder Earle handpicked him as a tour opener.

That was the night the region was introduced to Joe Pug. Since then, in a critically championed career that has grown in short, incremental steps, the songsmith has been playing to larger audiences. Pug, 29, who lives in Austin, Texas, now makes his way to Lexington for his local debut and an impending stay that could figure highly in the opening of more ears to his story-rich songs.”

I wanted a particular venue to get my writing across as well as my ideas,” said Pug, who performs Saturday at Willie’s Locally Known. “For me, the singer-songwriter route just seemed to make the most sense. At least starting out, you could do it all by yourself. You didn’t need a troupe of actors. You didn’t need a band. You didn’t need people running a camera. You would just do it yourself, basically.”

The reference to “a troupe of actors” eludes to Pug’s first crack at the stage. He acted in plays by Shakespeare and Moliere during high school in Maryland before studying acting, improv and eventually playwriting in college at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

“Studying theater in college definitely helped in the performance aspect of what I do now. The creative part of it, where you’re generating material and writing songs and then performing those songs … these are almost entirely different jobs. But theater definitely helped with the performance part.”

There is a theatrical under current to some of Pug’s best music. Theatrical, in this instance, doesn’t mean artificial. It instead is a storytelling device that enforces the strong narrative tone of songs like A Gentle Few, one of the standout tunes from Pug’s 2012 album, The Great Despiser. “Before you throw the towel and turn your engines out, don’t expect to spit all that you tasted from your mouth,” Pug sings in the song. “After all you’ve seen, the most you’ll hope to be is pretending to be a pretender.”

“I just try to stay inspired in any way I can, songwriting-wise,” Pug said. “I find that to be almost the entire job. I just have to figure out different ways to stay excited and inspired on a day-to-day basis.”

Pug will be returning to Lexington in late March to document some of that inspiration. He will record his next album with local producer/musician Duane Lundy at his Shangri La studio.

“I put Joe up there with the big boys — Dylan and those guys — when it comes to lyrical writing,” Lundy said. “He just reminds me of the classic American writer. If it wasn’t music, he would be a great novelist. He’s very dynamic in his performances, too. I’m thrilled to be working with somebody who gives you such an amazing perspective on the story in his songs.”

Pug said, “We’ve been steadily making progress over the last five years. It moves a lot slower when you don’t have a million bucks behind you. But I think your progress is truer progress in that case. It’s progress that’s not going to leave you the moment that the money dries up.”

 Joe Pug, David Ramirez and Egon Danielson perform at 8 p.m. Feb. 22 at Willie’s Locally Known, 805 N.Broadway. Admission is $10. Tickets are $10. Call (859) 281-1116 or go to

winter with the band perry

the band perry

the band perry: neil, kimberly and reid perry. photo by david mcclister.

For many people, the dead of winter can’t help but conjure wishes for warmer climates. The Band Perry, however, charted a different seasonal course. The chart-topping sibling country pop trio spent January on the road — in Canada.

But there was a method to such wintry madness. The trek through the Great White North was a non-literal warm-up for the group’s first headlining arena concerts in the United States. Dubbed the “We Are Pioneers Tour,” after the group’s top-selling 2013 sophomore album, Pioneer, the run of dates includes a performance Saturday in Corbin.

“It’s a little bit amazing that we haven’t even got to bring this tour to the States until now,” said singer/guitarist Kimberly Perry, 30. “We started the first leg of We Are Pioneers in Europe for about a month. That was on smaller stages because we couldn’t bring the full production over there. But it was really a good chance to experiment. In Canada, we got to break in the whole stage show. There was an overwhelming response up there, so we’re just thrilled to bring it back home to the States.”

Given the visibility and popularity that The Band Perry has enjoyed since the release of its 2010 self-titled debut album — which boasted the multi-platinum hits If I Die Young, You Lie and All Your Life — one might have expected the trio to be arena head liners by now. But during the hitmaking years leading up to Pioneer, the Perrys, who hail from Greeneville, Tenn., found themselves on the road as show openers for numerous veteran stars. At Rupp Arena alone, they have opened for Brad Paisley and Rascal Flatts.

“The three of us like to pick up bits of information from everyone we go on tour with,” said multi-instrumentalist Neil Perry, 23. “Going from playing small theaters and small clubs to playing arenas and amphitheaters, I think one of the biggest pieces of information that we picked up was from watching Keith Urban. He was the best at making the person in the nosebleed section at the very back of the arena feel like they were in the front row. That’s an art the three of us are always trying to hone.”

The journey to arena headliner status included the recording of Pioneer. Traditionally, in pop and country circles, maintaining the popularity of a top-selling debut is one of the keys to achieving career longevity. Pioneer entered the Billboard country charts at No. 1 and the trade magazine’s all-genre Billboard 200 at No. 2. That doesn’t mean recording sessions were pressure-free, though.”

I felt like Pioneer was certainly more about survival,” Kimberly Perry said. “I think you can hear that in a lot of the spirit in the tracks. It was all about rising above a moment and feeling like we were going into a particular mode where we were bound and determined to come out on top. I think that really came from, as you said, feeling the pressure and the responsibility. Coming off of the first album, we did not want to be viewed as a one-hit wonder. The three of us wanted to show real workmanship, where we felt like we really had to dig for every song.” Pioneer has already scored the hits Done and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, but its most personal statement is Mother Like Mine, a tune the siblings wrote as a tribute to their mother, Marie Perry.”

It was a little interesting when we played that one for our mom for the very first time,” said bassist Reid Perry, 25. “Everything in that song rings true, but we were still a little nervous because we didn’t know how she was going to react. Fortunately, she cried. But that’s not saying a whole lot because Mom cries for just about anything.”

The Band Perry, Easton Corbon and Lindsay Ell perform at 7:30 p.m. Feb.22 at The Arena at Southeastern Kentucky Agricultural and Expo Complex, 500 Arena Dr. in Corbin. Tickets are $25-$39.75. Call (800) 745-3000 ot go to

critic’s pick 325: tinariwen, ’emmaar’

tinariwenOn paper, the premise seems disastrous. The great Tuareg band Tinariwen, the voice of revolt in its African homeland of Mali, was recording its newest album in California. Could it be so? Was one of the most heralded world music bands of the day going the way of the Eagles?

Rest assured. Emmaar, Tinariwen’s seventh international album, merely trades one desert for another – specifically, the Sahara, where the band members have lived as nomads for decades, for Joshua Tree, the smaller, less primitive desert community in Southern California.

While the new record continues the modest input of American collaborators that began on Tinariwen’s Grammy winning 2011 album Tassili, it is no means an Americanized work. Aside from the spoken English intro by poet/singer Saul Williams, Emmaar (Tuareg for The Heat on the Breeze) is a sampler of chant-like recitations, all sung in Tuareg, revolving around layers of guitar rhythms that emit a wholly meditative aura.

The album notes contain rough English translations of the lyrics to at least guide listeners through their thematic origins and messages. But to domestic ears, the album’s incantatory sound overrides everything. The prayer-like Arhegh Danagh (I Want to Tell), for instance, begins in waves. The opening guitar jangle sounds like distant radio static. But it quickly becomes a casual yet precise harmonic backdrop once Ibrahim Ag Alhabib’s vocals enter. Percussion and ensemble singing then color the music before the song fades as mysteriously as it began                                                                                                       

The groove is more pronounced during Timadrit in Sahara (South of the Sahara) and Koud Edhaz Emin (Even If I Seem to Smile) but not in any conventionally American way. This isn’t verse-chorus-verse stuff or even rudimentary dance floor music instigated by a single, sustained beat. The guitars on these tunes move about intricately, as if the music formed a ballet. They establish mood and presence, move effortlessly with considerable grace (and no small element of mystical wonder) and then vanish. What lyricism each song conveys lingers just long enough to lead into the next tune, making Emmaar less like a collection of songs and more like one extended piece with 11 brief movements.

Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and Nashville fiddler Fats Kaplan make up part of the abbreviated guest list, but don’t bother trying to pick them out of this global stew. In the world of Tinariwen, all music is rhythm – a soulful breeze as vast and unyielding as the deserts it calls home.

in performance: marty stuart and his fabulous superlatives

marty and the superlatiives

marty stuart and his fabulous superlatiives: kenny vaughan, marty stuart, paul martin and harry stinson. photo by james minchin III.

“It’s nice to have indoor work,” proclaimed Marty Stuart last night at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort. It was a fitting sentiment as capping off Valentine’s Day with a two hour set of roots driven country music with the veteran singer and his outstanding Fabulous Superlatives combo was far more inviting than the latest love letter Old Man Winter was simultaneously delivering to Franklin County.

While Stuart has had ample share of the Nashville spotlight over his years, his music today bears little, if any resemblance, to contemporary country music. The repertoire last night went heavy on songs penned or popularized by Marty Robbins, Bill Monroe, Johnny Horton, Charlie Rich and other heralded country stylists from decades past along with a few of Stuart’s own hits from the ’90s (The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’, Tempted and an especially twang-friendly This One’s Gonna Hurt You).

Even though modern Nashville didn’t figure into the show, there was a seriously rocking side to the Superlatives, especially within the effortless guitar exchanges between Stuart and Kenny Vaughan that erupted out of the nifty picking during the show opening Stop the World and Let Me Off and continued through to the encore reading of Hillbilly Rock.

But this was also a program full of extraordinary dynamics. While the ensemble Superlatives sound provided enough groove, sass and overall roots country fortitude to Air Mail Special (where the nimble guitar exchanges brought to mind the fabulous electric picking of Clarence White), Parchman Farm (the murderous penitentiary classic Stuart summed up with a hearty “Happy Valentine’s Day, baby!”) and even an impromptu stab at the Bonanza theme, some of the program’s most commanding moments were also the quietest.

A suitably somber Long Black Veil was played with whisper thin clarity, which the crowded responded to with active, attentive quiet while the solo acoustic original Dark Bird proved an efficiently emotive eulogy to Johnny Cash (Stuart’s one time employer and father-in-law). But the kicker was a version of Orange Blossom Special that Stuart took out of its overly familiar context as a fiddle tune and refashioned as a sort of ghost train effigy for solo mandolin. It was the simplest, boldest and most primal sounding entry in this expert roots country primer performance.

for the love of spanish guitar

pablo sainz villegas

pablo sainz villegas.

When it comes to guarantees, Pablo Sainz Villegas has come up with what is known in the trade as a whopper.

Here is what he is promising any patron taking in tonight’s Valentine’s Day program, Love, by the Lexington Philharmonic.

“Everyone who comes to the concert will fall in love,” said the internationally acclaimed Spanish guitarist and guest soloist for tonight’s performance. “Well, with the music, at least.”

Such a qualifier places Sainz Villegas on musical terrain over which he has scholarly command. He will be featured tonight playing the Concierto de Aranjuez, the signature work of Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo.

A piece that has been adapted for a number of contemporary as well as classical settings (the most famous, perhaps, being the orchestrated jazz revision Miles Davis and Gil Evans designed for the iconic Sketches of Spain album), Aranjuez is also a composition the guitarist has performed with orchestras around the world.

This isn’t even his first time playing it here. Sainz Villegas and the Lexington Philharmonic teamed previously to perform it in 2007.

“This piece is an extension of who I am,” Sainz Villegas said recently by phone from Mexico City. “When I play it, I try to become the music. For me, this piece is the identity of man’s culture and, of course, the identity of Joaquin Rodrigo.

Sainz Villegas pointed to Aranjuez’s second and most familiar movement as a definition of that identity. The movement is considered a lament for the child Rodrigo and his wife lost from a miscarriage.

“The whole second movement is about this dramatic conversation with God. It’s a cry for the love of his child. It’s a very powerful movement. I think Joaquin really transformed all that pain into a beautiful and meaningful piece of music that connects to anyone’s sensitivity. In the end, that’s the language of the music. That’s why music speaks to anyone. You only need to know the heart to receive those emotions and be moved by them.”

That should hardly suggest tonight’s performance of Aranjuez will be in any way a mournful affair. The romantic beauty of Sainz Villegas’ playing abounds in a version of the piece he recorded in 2002 and reflects the romantic heritage of an instrument and culture that are forever linked.

“The Spanish classical guitar is the only instrument that is fully linked to a culture,” he said. “When we think of the violin or the piano – magnificent instruments that they are – they could be from Germany, Italy or France. But when you think of the guitar, you think of Spain. It’s an instrument with roots in the traditions of Jewish music and Arabic music – all cultures that have lived together in Spain over the past centuries. In the end, the guitar is an expression of the country as a culture.

“For example, the first movement of the Conceirto de Aranjuez is based on flamenco rhythms. In Spain, I grew up with those rhythms, with those melodies. So it’s quite natural for me to play that music on the guitar.

Sainz Villegas has also been instrumental over the past seven years in introducing that culture to children through a project called the Music Without Borders Legacy. Though the project was introduced to aid youths in Spain and Mexico, it has been utilized through interactive concerts in many global regions. Sainz Villegas will offer such a recital for area students on Saturday at the University of Kentucky Hospital Pavilion A Auditorium.

“It has been incredible to see the reaction of all these kids. You have to realize how powerful music can be, especially when you send it to people who never had any kind of contact to art or beauty because of the environment they were living in.”

The Lexington Philharmonic with Pablo Sainz Villegas perform at 7:30 tonight at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Tickets are $20-$70. Call (859) 233-4226 or go to,

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