Classical guitarist Barrueco brings his mastery home

January 14, 1993|By Larry Harris | Larry Harris,Staff Writer

As one of the world's finest classical guitarists, Manuel Barrueco is quite accustomed to exotic ports of call. Faraway places with strange-sounding names are part of his everyday life.

Forgive him, then, if he confesses to a twinge of home-turf nervousness as he prepares to guest solo with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Meyerhoff.

Even though the program -- Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez -- is a familiar one and no great challenge for an artist of Mr. Barrueco's magnitude, the native Cuban who now calls Baltimore home says he will be a bit edgy until actually beginning to play.

"It seems the most difficult performances are always the ones where you want to do so well," Mr. Barrueco said recently as he took a break from his hectic international schedule to enjoy a few days off at his home near Cockeysville. "It's always harder with familiar faces in the audience."

Mr. Barrueco hasn't displayed his flawless technique here since the spring of 1988, when he gave a recital at the Peabody Conservatory, where he is on the faculty.

Since then, he has performed with many orchestras all over the world, but he considers this weekend's opportunity to play with conductor David Zinman and the BSO "something special."

"I worked with David Zinman some years ago in Chicago with the Grand Park Symphony," Mr. Barrueco said. "I have the utmost admiration for his ability and what he has done in Baltimore. Mr. Zinman and the BSO are surely one of the most respected groups in the world today."

And Mr. Barrueco, who turned 40 last month, is surely one of the most respected guitarists in the world. He draws raves in many European and Asian countries, especially Germany, but is not a household word in the United States for several reasons. Through no fault of his own, Mr. Barrueco has had to discover harsh truths about political infighting involving agents and the recording business.

For a while, the man many call the best in the world at his art had problems getting dates in this country. In recent months, though, there has been a breakthrough and unlikely spots have been opening up for Mr. Barrueco, who certainly would prefer to stay closer to home. He has done concerts and recitals before packed houses in places like Stillwater, Okla., Fort Worth and Wichita Falls, Texas, and Augusta, Ga. On his schedule are dates in Bloomfield, Mich., Portland, Ore., and Oklahoma City.

A long-term recording contract with EMI Angel is still in place, although Mr. Barrueco is listed in that conglomerate's European Division and his records are not heavily pushed here. His latest compact disc, released last fall, is "Manuel Barrueco plays Albeniz and Turina," and is available locally.

But the best news of all for his career comes as a result of today's high-tech advertising. If Mr. Barrueco's face looks familiar, it's because just this week a blitz of national television, radio and print media advertisements featuring him began to appear.

In the 30-second spot, Mr. Barrueco is seen making an actual recording of "Asturias" (or "Leyanda") by Isaac Albeniz in the back seat of a Lexus, a luxury automobile. The spots began airing Monday , and are targeted for TV's creme de la creme -- "60 Minutes," ABC's "World News Tonight," "Northern Exposure," the "Tonight" show, "L.A. Law," "Cheers" and the Turner Network's National Basketball Association games. Print spots include USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek, Forbes and Gourmet magazines.

The ad proclaims how quiet the Lexus ride is, and just to throw in a finishing touch, the makers produced a six-minute CD of "Asturias", which will be used as a selling tool for prospective purchasers.

Mr. Barrueco was a natural for the spot, but in the past the bearded, intense virtuoso has missed out on lucrative opportunities because Americans seem to love golden-haired FTC Californians and there was always Christopher Parkening, another fine guitarist who fits that profile perfectly.

This time, though, another personality type was desired for the shoot in Ocala, Fla. Steve Silver, associate creative director at Team One, the ad agency behind the production, said Mr. Barrueco was chosen because of his ability and "serious, noble look."

In any case, it is heavily ironic that Mr. Barrueco's artistic brilliance is being exposed, albeit briefly, to millions of Americans for the first time through an auto ad. BSO-goers will be more fortunate.


When: Friday and Saturday at 8:15 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

Tickets: $15-$40.

Call: (410) 783-8000.

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