Starting today, Friday, 8 November, three of the world's greatest classical guitarists will be giving morning masterclasses and evening concerts all weekend at Budapest’s prestigious Franz Liszt Music Academy. We speak to Grammy award-winning Scottish musician David Russell, due to bookend the event with a guitar recital in the Grand Hall on Sunday.
Known for its pianists, violinists and conductors, not to mention illustrious music tradition, Hungary overlooked the classical guitar for many years.
In 2002 a radical change took place: guitarist József Eötvös started a classical guitar department at the Franz Liszt Music Academy. Within a short period of time, it proved itself a worthy addition, and over the past 15 years, students have won several prizes at international competitions.
Out of this came the Budapest International Guitar Festival, its concerts staged in major spaces such as the Solti Hall and Great Hall where this weekend’s performances take place.
“Years ago I used to come to Hungary to play at the Esztergom Guitar Festival,” says David Russell, one of the trio due to appear this weekend. “We also played Budapest but this will be the first time I will perform at the Liszt Academy.”
This year, on the same bill as David will be Cuban/American Manuel Barrueco, playing tonight, Friday, and Paul O’Dette, giving a lute concert on Saturday.
“Both Paul and Manuel are colleagues,” says David. “We’re good friends and always enjoy spending time together.”
Grammy-nominated four times, Barrueco has played concert halls from the Hollywood Bowl to the Lincoln Center. Originally a rock guitarist, O’Dette then moved into Baroque and Renaissance music, becoming an avid researcher in the subject and earning five Grammy nominations for his lute-playing.
David’s career path has been equally circuitous. Born in Glasgow, as a boy he moved with his family to Menorca, where the classical guitar of Andrés Segovia and Julian Bream piqued his interest.
“Every part of a musician’s life becomes part of their way of playing,” he explains. “Spanish music is an important part of the guitar repertoire, so growing up with that music has been an inspiration to my own development.”
A Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in London, David has won numerous awards, including the Julian Bream Guitar Prize and the Andrés Segovia Competition, although the honour of being made the adopted son of Es Migjorn, where he grew up on Menorca, had special significance.
He and his wife are still based in Spain, but over in Galicia on the wild north-west coast. “Apart from playing concerts and touring in many countries, my wife and I always try to go to one or two new places in the world every year. We also love running marathons, so we will be training for another marathon.”
Part of their association with Galicia, however, includes support of local football club Celta de Vigo. “We are both big fans of our humble team,” says David, “and even though we are doing badly this year, we still support them”.
By chance, Sunday’s big concert at the Grand Hall coincides with Celta playing the footballing giants of Barcelona. “My wife will have great difficulty with her loyalty between my concert and the Barcelona-Celta match,” he laughs. “I hope that she decides to come to the show…”
As well as the Bach and Handel programmed for his Sunday-night recital, David is keen on underlining the variety of music on offer this weekend: “From Baroque to Spanish, Romantic, South American and new piece written for me about the Camino de Santiago”.