“Years ago, I wanted to do a Segovia tribute album featuring a few of his original pieces, some of his arrangements, and music I’d played for him in master classes,” Scott Tennant tells me sitting on the couch in his Los Angeles apartment. “That was my strategy until I played Segovia’s Ramirez guitar.” A chance encounter with the Maestro’s historic 1969 Ramirez at Guitar Salon International (GSI) in Santa Monica, California, altered Tennant’s plans.
“I’d just finished a videotaping session playing various guitars at GSI when the re- cording engineer, Kai Narezo, said GSI had just bought a Ramirez guitar once owned by Segovia,” Tennant recalls. “He asked if I wanted to try it. I was pretty tired and half-heartedly said, ‘Sure.’” But after playing it for a few moments, Tennant told Narezo that it was the best guitar he’d ever played. Tennant knew that he needed this instrument for his Segovia recording.
From that point on, an unforeseen synergy began operating, and people from far-flung countries with primary and secondary connections to Segovia began to collaborate to clear the obstacles standing between Tennant and his aspirations for the project. Tennant’s Segovia album immediately started heading into territory where none of the many previous Segovia tributes had ever gone. First, there was the guitar. Borrowing the iconic instrument that GSI had promised to a buyer posed logistical problems. But GSI president David Collett and others at the guitar shop overcame them.
Next, Tennant wondered about including more of Segovia’s compositions. He had played Segovia’s most popular piece, “Estudio Sin Luz” for years, and was aware of a couple of other Segovia originals that various guitarists had recorded, but was there enough music for a full program? Tennant soon learned that Segovia had penned nearly 60 titles. “As I started looking into this, David Collett put me in touch with [Italian musicologist/composer] Angelo Gilardino, who sent me a list of Segovia’s known compositions,” Tennant says. “Once I got that, I knew there was enough material for a whole album of Segovia’s music.”
More significantly, in his dialog with Gilardino, Tennant learned of a missing manuscript of perhaps Segovia’s most ambitious piece, Fandango de la Madrugada. Segovia had left the original manuscript in a suitcase in Montevideo, Uruguay, where he and his second wife, pianist Paquita Madriguera, settled in 1937 to wait out the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Toward the end of their ten years in Montevideo, the couple began having marital troubles. Madriguera filed for divorce in 1946, and when the divorce was final in 1948, Segovia left with most of his belongings. But he left behind a suitcase that held Fandango.
The thought of giving the recorded premiere of Segovia’s lost piece intrigued Tennant. With some exertion on Gilardino’s part, the original manuscript and a later handwritten copy Segovia had made— possibly from memory—were returned. Gilardino successfully importuned Sego- via’s third wife, Emilia, for permission for Tennant to record the piece and to publish his edition of Fandango. Emilia Segovia had previously never shared the music with others, but she had a change of heart and gave Tennant the green light.
Working up the project’s business plan was next. Brazilian guitar virtuoso turned banking executive Marcelo Kayath, a longtime friend of Tennant, will release the album through GuitarCoop (GC), a cooperative venture he formed with Tennant and fellow virtuosi Paul Galbraith, Jorge Caballero, and Fabio Zanon, among others. “GuitarCoop is about high-quality projects,” Kayath stated in an e-mail from Brazil. “We record with the best equipment and in the best halls and make no concessions to popular demand. We want to offer a plural view of the guitar. Each of our artists has a personal view on music, but we are not trying to impose our views on the guitar world.”
The GC website states that its mission is to become “the global hub for guitar aficionados by creating a new musical experience…a multimedia experience that reflects the listening habits of the 21st century.” Kayath contends that GC goes beyond what a record label does. “We see ourselves as an online platform presenting videos, interviews, and sheet music, as well as CDs and recordings,”he wrote. Kayath has plans to launch a video initiative in cooperation with the Julian Bream Trust that will offer videos of new music for guitar, as well as videos of gems of the repertoire that are infrequently played. “There will also be some novelties based on new technologies,” Kayath predicts. “We want to do things in a 21st century way.” To that end, Kayath arranged to shoot a “making of” video during Tennant’s recording sessions to further illuminate the album-making process.
They also needed to clear other logistical hurdles to make the record. Regarding GC’s custom of recording in extraordinary acoustic environments in Brazil, and GSI’s promise to the new owner of the Segovia Ramirez that the guitar would not leave Los Angeles, recording with Kayath’s engineer in the halls he favors was out of the question. GSI’s Kai Narezo was chosen to engineer, and the acoustically exceptional Joyce J. Camilleri Hall at the University of Southern California (USC, where Tennant is a faculty member) was identified as a venue that met Kayath’s high standards. Additionally, Tennant’s fellow Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (LAGQ) member John Dearman was brought aboard to produce.
How to pay the fees for the hall rental and the recording personnel was the next issue. “When Marcelo looked at the expenses for the project, he knew we needed funding,” Tennant says. “He was able to get the people at Augustine Strings onboard within a day.” In another example of symbiosis, doors just seemed to open.
Both Tennant and Kayath had ties to Segovia, having played for him in his California master classes in the 1980s, and to the late Rose Augustine, wife of Albert Augustine. It should be remembered that Segovia and Albert Augustine pioneered nylon guitar strings in the 1940s.
“Years ago, [luthier] Tom Humphrey took me over to meet Rose,” recalls Tennant. “I was so nervous and told her that I used Augustine strings. I was basically asking about an endorsement. Rose was a former New York high school chemistry teacher, and she gave me a look and said, ‘Why would we ever do that? We have Segovia.’ I felt so tiny, but then she gave me two shopping bags filled with strings before I left. She was very generous and the Augustines funded so many projects.” In his April 23, 2003 New York Times obituary of Rose Augustine, Allan Kozinn corroborated her beneficence. “When she spotted young players who she felt were carrying on the Segovia tradition, she threw her influence behind their careers,” Kozinn wrote. The Augustine string company’s support for Tennant’s Segovia recording seems like the kind of project that Rose would have gotten behind.
Tennant is recording 38 short pieces from Segovia’s oeuvre. In preparing for the recording, he gained insights to Segovia’s musical mind. “I am realizing that he was great at capturing the styles of different composers,” Tennant says. “His pieces run the gamut from little lessons and etudes reminiscent of Dionsio Aguado’s, up to Oracion, which reminds me of a hybrid of Impressionism and the [Spanish nationalist] music of Manuel De Falla. Oracion is one of my favorites and is a very important piece. It’s a tribute to Manuel Ponce, Segovia’s best friend, an homage written just after Ponce passed away. Segovia included a quote from Ponce’s music in it.
“There is another piece called Prelude No. 9 that’s like a beautiful Schumann piano piece, like something from Kinderszenen. I have other little favorites. One is called Recordando a Deli and it’s beautiful. It’s from the Preludios y Estudios (Preludes and Studies) and sounds a little like Schumann or Brahms. In going through the music, I found lots of little gems. I think Segovia had a great sense of line and melody.”
Tennant also considered doing some of Segovia’s folk song arrangements. “He made versions of ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ and of really beautiful songs from Britain and Russia,” he says. “Some of them are only a page long. They are simple but very interesting. Perhaps he used them as en- cores when he was traveling. I decided not to do them this time because there was plenty of other material.”
There is a bit of intrigue surrounding the once-lost Fandango de la Madrugada. “Angelo Gilardino sent me photocopies of two versions in Segovia’s hand,” Tennant says. “The first version lay hidden for decades in a suitcase in Montevideo. Segovia thought he’d get back there to pick it up, but he never did. The originals had mold all over them and the ink had bled through onto other pages making some passages hard to decipher. I had to really look at each chord to make sure I had the right notes.”
Tennant suspects that the second manuscript is the fruit of Segovia trying to rewrite his lost piece from memory. “He must have liked this piece, since he tried to recreate it,’ Tennant says. “He changed a few things and made it longer. Frankly, [the second] version wanders a little bit. I don’t think he really finished it, even though he put a double bar line at the end. I think he just gave up on it.” Tennant hired a professional copyist experienced in working with handwritten manuscripts to help confirm pitches and note values and typeset the edition that he will record and publish.
The piece has a fandango feel, but Tennant suspects that Segovia was not trying to adhere to a traditional form. “Even though he was drawing heavily on flamenco, he didn’t want people to think he was playing in a folk or flamenco style,” he says. “He wanted it slower than a flamenco fandango would go. It’s more like the approach [Joaquín] Turina took in pieces like Sevillanas and Fandangillo. They are allusions to the original form. Segovia’s Fandango is more impressionistic than flamenco.”
A CAPABLE INTERPRETER
Tennant’s artistic background, vast performance history, and firsthand experiences with Segovia at the Maestro’s 1981 and 1986 master classes at USC prepared him well for this project. Tennant is one of the original members of the Grammy-winning Los Angeles Guitar Quartet—each hand-picked 36 years ago while students of Pepe Romero for an ensemble he wanted to coach at USC. Interestingly, LAGQ’s debut performance took place in 1981 among the many events scheduled during Segovia’s first USC residency. The group continues to tour and perform, and has released 14 critically hailed albums.
After the final recording sessions in October, Tennant will review the takes and come up with an edit map before sending the files to Kayath in Brazil for editing and mastering. The CD should be available by Spring 2017. From my observation of the August recording sessions, producer John Dearman, Tennant’s LAGQ compadre, offers both a critical ear and the understand- ing of a friend who knows how to capture the best takes from Tennant. “John and I have worked together so many years, but this is the first time I have used him as my producer,” Tennant says. “We have recorded so much with the quartet. John understands what the frustrations are with recording and that helps a lot.”
All of Tennant’s preparation for this tribute album has given him a glimpse into Segovia’s private musical world. “I am convinced that he wasn’t too interested in composing long pieces—although I believe that he could have,” he says. “These short pieces are all dedicated to various people. I feel that his compositions were very personal, written with somebody in mind.”
Playing Segovia’s guitar and bringing to life his music through the notes, fingerings, and expressive markings he placed in the scores has been an immersive experience for Tennant. But he didn’t check his own artistic identity at the studio door. “As an artist, I feel responsible to express myself,” he notes. “I do that in certain obvious places where I changed a fingering he used that doesn’t work for me. I don’t have the hands or the reach that he had. But as far as style goes, I am finding it very freeing to sort of imitate his style and vibrato. It’s so in my head because I grew up listening to his style. He was a huge influence for me.”
This album connects Tennant back to his days more than four decades ago in Detroit with teacher and Segovia proponent Joe Fava and their explorations of the Maestro’s technique books and transcriptions. Tennant has since successfully forged his own path and brings to this endeavor all the savoir-faire gained from an extraordinary career as a performer, recording artist, and author of his own highly influential Pumping Nylon technique books.
Concluding our interview, Tennant sums up the serendipity that seemed to be a part of the project by simply saying, “I think this project was just meant to be.”