All of us at Classical Guitar magazine offer warm congratulations and hearty huzzahs to Jason Vieaux, winner at the 2015 Grammy Awards in the category Best Classical Instrumental Solo, for his superb 2014 album, Play. The busy and prolific Vieaux, who also teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Curtis Institute of Music, was on hand at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles at the February 8 ceremony (which preceded the glitzy national telecast of the so-called “major” awards next door at the larger Staples Center arena).
It’s not very often that a classical guitarist wins a Grammy, so it’s a big deal when it happens. Andrés Segovia was the first, in 1959. Laurindo Almeida won five in the early ’60s. Julian Bream took home four trophies between 1963 and 1972 (one shared with John Williams), David Russell and the LAGQ were both winners in 2004, and Sharon Isbin in both 2001 and 2010. Vieaux’s Play (on the Azica label) has proven to be enormously successful. Over the course of 17 tracks, it serves up an eclectic mélange of solo guitar tracks, including pieces by Tárrega, Segovia, Barrios and Jobim, as well as ones by Andrew York, Leo Brouwer, Paul Bellinati, and even Duke Ellington.
As fate would have it, weeks ago we had scheduled an interview with Vieaux for the morning of February 10, less than 48 hours after the Grammy Awards, to talk about his beautiful and challenging new collaboration with harpist Yolanda Kondonassis, Together, and also about Play and other matters. That interview will appear in the Summer 2015 issue of Classical Guitar, out in late May.
But, of course, we couldn’t resist asking him about his experience at the Grammys:
Congratulations, Jason! You must still be floating on air.
It’s very exciting. It’s sort of like a new level of insanity and intensity. It’s a wonderful thing to experience. 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.
What was your day like?
My wife [Erine] and I got ready and we headed over at around 11:30 or noon. It’s a very tightly controlled event with lots of security, so it’s one of those things where you’re double-checking your pockets three times to make sure you’ve got your tickets, because if you don’t, you don’t get in. [Laughs] To get to our seats we had to walk up the red carpet, where there’s all this media—the E Channel, VH-1, and these others. They don’t want to talk to me, but we got to see it. It gets pretty crazy.
“Jason, what designer are you wearing?”
[Laughs] No, there’s none of that for me! We had a good laugh, because at the end of the red carpet there’s a camera bay where all these photographers were waiting to take pictures of celebrities. We were right behind Lemmy Kilmister of [the hard rock band] Motorhead—who I totally got a picture with, by the way; he was very gracious. So the photographers are all yelling, “Lemmy, Lemmy, look over here!” All that madness that goes on. And then when my wife and I stepped into the camera bay it was like you could hear crickets! [Laughs] They had no idea who we were. You take pictures in four spots in the camera bay, and I think by the time we got to the fourth spot people were feeling sorry for us so they snapped a few of us.
When we walked in to our seats, we met up with Alan Bise [his producer] and his wife, Stephanie, and the by the time we’d gotten through that gauntlet—you’re proceeding slowly through this red carpet of media tents—the show had already started; we were like 20 minutes late getting to our seats, so I was just hoping they don’t call our category first.
They ended up calling about ten categories before they got to ours. To be honest, I really did not expect to win the category over any of the other four nominees, especially over [pianist] Leon Fleischer or the Daniil Trifonov, since Trifonov had won two of the biggest piano competitions in the world and is on Deutsche Grammophon, which has a very large voter bloc. So we get to the moment and then, from the time that [the award presenter] read “and the winner is” to the moment when he actually read the name, felt like three minutes. He called it and we just screamed; we couldn’t believe it.
Had you prepared a speech?
I had, and it only took me 15 or 20 minutes to write it because I just thanked everybody on my management and PR teams that I’ve worked with for so many years, my family and friends, and my students at Curtis and CIM, and ArtistWorks.
After I won, I went through this labyrinth underneath the [Nokia Theatre] of about four or five media tents where they ask you questions. They take your picture at these different photo stalls. Then [after the ceremony is over] you walk the same red carpet to go watch the telecast at the Staples Center, and that was an experience! Erine and I were in this crush of celebrities also walking over to the Staples Center, so we had Questlove [of the Roots] and Pharrell [Williams] all walking by us. If you’re not a real celebrity, you tend to get pushed to the side of the line. [Laughs] And then that camera bay was completely insane, with everybody yelling. We had this incredible view of all that. People like Chris Brown, Gwen Stefani, Nicki Minaj, and all these others were going through the four points of the camera bay. I’d never even been near anything like that before. I got pictures with Barry Gibb and Herbie Hancock and Mastodon, who I’m a huge fan of.
What do you think the victory of your album says?
Well, I wanted to make a quote-unquote “hits” album, but in my style. I was going to throw a few curveballs in there and some of my arrangements, but make it a fun thing to listen to, where you didn’t know what was coming next, but it all hangs together as a whole.
Not to compare myself to the great David Russell—and I acknowledged him and Julian Bream as childhood heroes and previous winners of that award. But for me, when David won that award in 2004, we and many of my colleagues were so happy. It was awesome. We wanted to have a party to celebrate. It felt like people were really listening to this stuff and thinking about it and rewarding quality.
We knew the CD [Play] had a sort of underground buzz behind it, because radio stations were playing it. Radio program directors and DJs were reporting back to my PR person, Christina Jensen, saying, “We love this record; we wish we could play the whole thing on the air.” So I thought we had an outside shot. We’re very proud of the CD. But to win was definitely amazing.