Grammy winner Jason Vieaux opens Abilene Philharmonic season with classic Spanish work

Abilene is known as a guitar town.

We like guys who can play, preferably electric. We've turned out to hear the late Stevie Ray Vaughan and Long John Hunter, Ted Nugent, Eric Johnson and Joe Bonamassa, among others.

A guitar player is out front again Saturday, when 2015 Grammy Award winner Jason Vieaux joins the Abilene Philharmonic for its season opening program titled "Concierto de Aranjuez."

He won't be electric, but likely his performance will be.

Vieaux won at the 57th Grammys for Best Classical Instrumental Solo for his 2014 album titled "Play."

What he will play with the Phil is the title signature piece by Joaquin Rodrigo, a Spanish composer who wrote this well-known three-movement work in 1939, at the end of the Spanish Civil War.

"It's definitely the most famous concerto for guitar and orchestra," Vieaux said.

The piece comes at the start of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Also on the program is the overture to "Le Nozze di Figaro" by Wolfgang Mozart, "Siegried Idyll" by Richard Wagner and "Pelleas and Melisande Suite" by Gabriel Faure.

Vieaux has performed "Concierto de Aranjuez" more than 200 times. But there is a backstory to the first time he did.

About the piece

Rodrigo and his wife were living in exile in Paris at the time he wrote the music. However, it's based on the couple's honeymoon in Spain.

Those studying the piece - one of the most popular 20th century concertos, Vieaux said - draw historical and personal references made in the music.

The first movement is an aural depiction of the gardens where they stayed at the Palacio Real de Aranjuez. The site dates back to the 16th century but was refurbished in the 18th century, he said. It was a retreat for nobility.

Heard in the music are bird songs and gushing of fountains. Rodrigo wanted listeners to smell the magnolias, Vieaux said.

The second movement is recognizable, heard now and then even in movies. The theme is carried by the English horn, "and embellished upon by the guitarist," Vieaux said.

After the composer's death, his wife explained that the inspiration was the miscarriage of their first child. Rodrigo sat at the piano and that emotion flew out of him.

"His response to the grief of them losing their child," Vieaux said.

The final movement brings to mind 16th century court dance. The beat shifts however, the guitarist said, giving it a more modern feel.

Getting there

Vieaux first listened to "Concierto" in high school.

Asked if he came to a tuning fork in the road, having to choose between electric and acoustic guitar, the artist said he always gravitated toward acoustic performance though he grew up listening the kings of electric, such as David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin).

He never fell into the garage band thing because "I was pretty serious from the time I was 10 or 11 about classical guitar."

There was was only occasional jamming with other musicians, he said.

"That was my only brush with electric guitar playing," he said.

Vieaux wanted to learn to play "Concierto" when he was a freshman in 1990 at Cleveland Institute for Music.

However, while he could play fast and had skill first shown when he was 12, his instructor, John Holmquist, who headed the guitar program at the school, told him, "Well, let's hold off on that."

Though Vieuax had 75 pieces he could play, Holmquist told him this work required technical skill he had yet to master.

"I was pretty wild, in terms of my mechanics ... in terms of my golf swing," Vieaux said, laughing.

But when he was a junior, Vieaux won the Guitar Foundation of America's international competition. He likens that accomplishment to winning the Van Cliburn for pianists or the Queen Elizabeth Competition for violinists.

"That was a big step and probably a little bit unexpected," he said. "A little bit ahead of schedule."

He took a year off from school to do the 53-city tour that came with it.

Before he returned to classes, Cleveland Orchestra contact Holmquist, requested his student perform the challenging third movement of "Concierto de Aranjuez" during a series of family concerts.

Holmquist told Vieaux, "I think you're ready for this now."

"So that's how I got my feet wet" with the famous piece, Vieaux said.

Acoustic guitar vs. an orchestra

It would seem that a performance by an acoustic guitar player surrounded by musicians on brass, wind and strings would not survive the bigger sounds.

That's where a good amp comes in, Vieaux said.

It's important, he said, that the orchestra players perform comfortably. Do what they do.

"It's a little bit of a balancing thing in rehearsals," he said.

He found an amp made by Henricksen Amplifers in Denver. The founder's first name is Bud, not Jimi.

"They are very natural sounding," Vieaux said.

He takes his amp and good microphone on the road. The balance is worked on at the venue.

The audience can hear the guitarist, and the orchestra, perhaps playing a little more quietly but within a comfort range that ensures the best performance for all.

"With the technology, you can turn the amplifier up without losing the intimacy of the sound of the guitar. The accuracy of the sounds," Vieaux said.

Looks good on a resume

Winning a Grammy was a high note for Vieaux. For example, it links him to the great guitarist Andrés Segovia, who was the first guitarist to win the award, in 1959.

"It’s very exciting. It’s sort of like a new level of insanity and intensity. It’s a wonderful thing to experience," he told Classical Guitar that year. "And the best part about it has been all the wonderful positive feedback—I’ve gotten between 400 and 500 emails and Twitter notifications, so it’s been very satisfying on that level. People seem to be really happy about it."

He attended with his wife, while grandparents kept their then-10-month-old son.

"A very special time and a lot of good memories," he said.

Traveling man

Vieaux will come to Abilene from Cleveland, a sort-of guitar town, being the home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

He has taught for 27 years at Cleveland Institute of Music, where he was a student.

Earlier in the week, he was in Moab, Utah, for a couple of weeks. And here's why.

He and a violinist joined adventurers willing pay the price to raft and enjoy music outdoors.

Vieaux said the group camped out, rising in the morning to music, rafting, stopping for lunch and more music, rafting and stopped for the evening, when they listened to more music around a campfire.

"We performed a lot," he said. The idea was to put a musical score to a relaxing time.

Not a bad way to spend your money, or to earn a little.

It is assumed the musicians brought along waterproof cases for their instruments.

Something rarely needed in Abilene.

If You Go

What: "Concierto de Alanjuez," the opener for the 2022-23 Abilene Philharmonic season.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Abilene Convention Center, 1100 North Sixth St.

Tickets: Range in price to $46, plus fees, depending on seat location. $5 tickets are available for students. Go to to order, and for information.

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Grammy winner Jason Vieaux opens Phil season with classic Spanish work