Guitar artist believes music leads to better life

September 27, 1997|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

When Eliot Fisk plays the guitar, he thinks he's doing more than playing music; he'd like to believe that he's helping to save the planet.

"Aside from the sensual and spiritual pleasure I get from playing music, I never found more of what's worth saving in our species than I have in fine-art music," Fisk says. "If I didn't believe that, I couldn't stay a musician."

Fisk has been one of the world's most famous guitarists for so long, it comes as something of a shock to realize that the Philadelphia-born, Yale-educated musician is only 43. In his appearances at Shriver Hall this Sunday -- a "family" concert at 2 p.m. and a recital with the noted flutist Paula Robison at 7: 30 p.m., he will be treading familiar ground.

He has always been interested in bringing music to children. He has been even more devoted to making chamber music with such distinguished partners as Robison, violinist Gidon Kremer and soprano Victoria de los Angeles. And like his great mentor, Andres Segovia, he has always championed new music, which will be represented Sunday by the "Mountain Songs" of the American composer Robert Beaser, who wrote them for Fisk and Robison.

But the first half of the program is made up almost entirely of music by Latin American composers -- Astor Piazzolla, Hector Villa-Lobos and Agustin Barrios -- and by Fisk's own transcriptions for guitar and flute of folk songs from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

"The neglect of Latin American music in the United States is just a symptom of a larger sociopolitical problem," Fisk says. "The way our country has exploited Central and South America can only be compared to the way Europe exploited Africa."

Fisk has been interested in the folk music of Latin America since his first concert tour there almost 20 years ago.

"Venezuela, for example, has the most beautiful folk music of any country I know," he says. "Almost anyone can pick up the cuatro [a four-string guitar] and make beautiful music. It has languished simply because of lack of contact with the great European tradition."

Fisk's decision to right that wrong has motivated his efforts in recent years, he says, "to broaden my scope."

In retrospect, Fisk's rise to fame seems meteoric. He established his position as one of the greatest of Segovia's proteges 21 years ago in his New York debut. From the beginning, his playing was marked by bold interpretations, a romantic approach to ornamentation and a technical facility so prodigious that he was able to play his own transcriptions of the Paganini "Caprices" and make listeners forget that they were written for the violin. And he became even more celebrated through his remarkable transcriptions -- not only of the music of Paganini, but also of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Scarlatti, among others.

"Music has consumed a big part of my life at the expense of a lot of other things," Fisk says, but he sees it as a way to inspire change. "A new terrorism has been loosed in the world by the destruction of the environment. And when you travel giving concerts, you realize that all peoples want more than the urban blight found everywhere on our planet. Music can have a fantastic role inspiring what's best in us and pointing us to a better way in the new millennium."

Concert Where: Shriver Hall, on the Homewood campus of the Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles St.

When: Eliot Fisk family concert tomorrow at 2 p.m.; joint recital with flutist Paula Robison tomorrow at 7: 30 p.m.

Tickets: $6 for 2 p.m. concert; for 7: 30 p.m. concert, $22, or $11 for students

Call: 410-516-7164

Pub Date: 9/27/97

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