News: David Russell gives a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR

NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts are short performances given by great artists in the NPR office and, of course, video recorded. David Russell was the most recent artist. The set list:

  • Augustin Barrios: Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios
  • Francois Couperin: Les Silvains
  • Isaac Albeniz: Granada

He also talks a bit (including one almost dirty joke!), and tells why he plays his current guitar, a Matthias Dammann. Mr. Russell is on tour right now in support of his new album, Sonidos Latinos.

David Russell: Tiny Desk Concert

Posted on in Around the Web, Guitar Related Links


  • mike

    Thanks a lot for bringing this to my attention.. Russell is my absolute favorite!

  • Jon

    David is a great guitarist, I always thought my old teacher and friend of David, Simon Dinnigan was in the same class shame he had to quit.

  • Doug Anderson
    Doug Anderson

    I saw David Russell on Saturday night in Seattle. His persona, as usual, and to be welcomed, was warm and open and relaxed.

    But, too relaxed perhaps?

    How else to explain the tough time he had with the Bach Pieces he presented in his program. It was like watching two tough animals chomping on the ends of a single rag. In this case, the ‘Musical Piece’ animal was winning. Is it wrong to talk about this? I don’t mean to violate some Guitar World taboo; that is not my aim. But what are we to think when a world-caliber musician fights with his material and loses? And what if the material is material that he himself transcribed for his instrument? Again, I am not trying to put Mr. Russell down; I am a life-long fan and he has played to perfection too many times for too many people for that. Perhaps it is that very perfection that perturbs and makes his errors seem even more inexplicable. Yes, I know he is not superman, etc. Are other classical soloists crushed by their material in like manner – pianists, trumpeters, harpists, singers? If so in what frequency ratios? Does the classical world monitor such aberrations (for I believe they are aberrations) or should we not speak of this at all?

    Another grumble (might as well get it all off my chest): the program. Could the classical world please put a year-long moratorium on the 19th century composers – Sor, Guiliani, Albeniz, even, yes Tarrega? Extended bouts of tonic and dominant makes 20th century listeners restless. Or at least limit ONE 19th Cent. Chestnut per program. There is so much interesting music written for guitar now coming from all over the world it is silly for program programmers to insist on traditional classical set lists. Yes, Russell did play some wonderful lively pieces by Brazilian guitarist A. Neves. But would it have been a horrible classical faux pas for Russell to have performed something by Jobim or Baden Powell or Bonfa – or even something by the great Haitian composer, Frantz Casseus? Isn’t the guitar the leading instrument today in smashing boundaries? Yes, and Russell knows this better than anyone — I just wish his programs reflected this more. David Russell is a much loved performer here in Seattle; wouldn’t this be the perfect audience upon which to try out new & risky things?

    Observeable errors in that realm would be easier to forgive.

  • Rich Fong

    Hi Doug… Interesting thoughts. It is easy to get so sucked into idol worship that one is blinded, or in this case deafened, to what is going on. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the entire recital. I commented to my wife that he played the Bach with a little more emotion–“punch” is the word that came to mind–than one usually hears. Is that what you mean by the “musical piece” animal winning? If so, I must admit I am all in favor, errors (and I didn’t notice much more than an occasional mis-fretted buzzed note here and there) notwithstanding.

    Here’s another fascinating angle. The next day, at the master class (were you there?), the first player played a Bach fugue. One of Russell’s comments was that in designing a program, if you play the Bach up at the sound hole, when you get to the Tarrega later in the program, where do you go? Yes, that struck me as perhaps contrary to what he’d done the night before…

    As for the program… Although Tarrega and Albeniz lived most of their lives in the 19th century, I don’t think of them as 19th century composers, at least not in the same way as Sor and Giuliani. In fact, I believe the latter two were dead before the first two were born. I could listen to Albeniz forever. I especially enjoy Alicia Delarrocha’s recordings of his works for piano. (I don’t feel the same about Tarrega.) How did you feel about the Kleynjans piece? That certainly falls into the contemporary mode, even if he does reference Tarrega.

    His new disc does feature more 20th cen. works–Hector Ayala and Jorge Morel, just off the top of my head. Yes, it would have been nice to hear some Morel live, certainly!

    BTW, do you know the name of the second encore? I believe it was an Emilio Pujol piece.

  • Christopher Davis

    I think what Doug is speaking of is the relative conservatism of David’s pieces–even the 20C stuff he does. Morel is extremely conservative compared to many composers.

    David Russell’s huge stardom would allow him to commission works from just about any mainstream, non-guitarist composer (ala Bream), but he just doesn’t. The stuff he does commission is still relatively conservative. But both John Williams and Manuel Barrueco are guilty of the same sort of reinforcement of conservative repertoire.

    Are far as the banning 19C works, that’s a bit far. There’s a lot of really good 19C stuff out there than no one plays. Regondi’s music is phenomenal (stupid hard, though) and doesn’t get performed much. There are big sonatas by Matiegka and Molitor that no one does. A lot of Mertz’s catalog is unexplored and there’s many other late 19C works that don’t get played (Coste, Arcas, etc.). There’s plenty of unexplored repertoire, but no one bothers. It’s much easier to play standards.


  • Kirk Keathley
    Kirk Keathley

    “The standards” are standards for one simple reason: they have stood the test of time, and in fact, stand out over time when compared to the rest. A lot of people (myself included) would rather perform top quality music by Bach that has been done to death, than to spend my valuable time working on some inferior quality piece just because it is “new”. Yes, I realize that by doing so I am not furthering the repertoire of my instrument in the way many believe is optimal, but is it not just as good to expose new listeners to the best quality music? Just a thought…..

  • Donna

    I attended the concert in Portland Last week. I have seen David perform a few times in the past… the first time was in 1984 at a GFA festival. I still have the program…funny it was mostly Bach. I love David Russell and also love his Latin albums. When I heard that he was playing Bach and Albeniz… I was hesitant to attend. I hadn’t been to a classical guitar concert in 20 years but since I have been studying again I felt like it was the right time and should try to attend. I actually enjoyed the concert and the pieces. I think David had too much BACH by having the one suite in the First half and second in the second. I think that it is amazing how mentally challenging that is to do two suites in a program and although there were some flubbs ( even my husband noticed ) I think it made me realize that as a guitarist we are human. I actually walked out of there relieved! As a guitarist we are all human. Even the masters make little mistakes. We can still perform a piece with great interpretation and musicality to share with others.
    I would of liked to see more of the latin pieces performed from his last few albums. But in looking at the crowd I think that he had to go with the more conservative approach. What is going to get more people to the concerts? It was my first classical guitar concert in a long time. Hopefully not my last.


  • Daniel

    Rich Fong wrote:
    “One of Russell’s comments was that in designing a program, if you play the Bach up at the sound hole, when you get to the Tarrega later in the program, where do you go?”

    Could you expand on this? It seems like an interesting comment but I’m not sure what he meant by it. Was he saying that you should play Bach more ponticello to contrast it’s tone color with the Tarrega?

  • Rich Fong

    Daniel… It was a very interesting moment, and I think you’ve got it right. He was suggesting the student had played the Bach with too much romantic color. He wanted him to play it a bit brighter, I guess–maybe sounding more like a harpsichord or something. Then as you move toward more modern, romantic pieces later in the program, you have that tone contrast.

  • Kirk Keathley
    Kirk Keathley

    My question is really for David Russell, but if anyone else wants to take it on then feel free. Is Bach’s music not worthy of the same tonal variety as Tarrega?

  • Doug Anderson

    Christopher, this is a fine site by the way and many good and thoughtful comments in this thread.

    To continue the conversation into June (if anyone is out there, still); Segovia kick started the classical tradition of the guitar and now we’re seeing his spiritual grandkids master the instrument with real virtuosity; I fear tho’ that the more virtuosity the guitar attains the more boring will become it repertoire. Master level guitarists aren’t competing against Beethoven, they’re cometing against Hank Williams. The guitar just sitting in a corner is a pretty poweful instrument or as Leo Kotkke said ‘I love the sound of the guitar just being dropped on the floor.’

    I can only account for David Russells mistakes, and they were many, by boredom – maybe he is bored with his programs. If the classical guitar has limits I think we – this generation – is about to find out.