These are exciting times for internationally acclaimed classical and flamenco guitarist, composer, conductor, and teacher Virginia Luque. In the past year alone the Spanish native has released several first-rate CDs on her blossoming Iberia Productions label: the solo guitar Homage to Agustín Barrios; Spanish Masterworks for the Guitar (which includes the Concierto de Aranjuez, performed with the London Symphony Orchestra); A Christmas Feeling, consisting of instrumental duets with versatile jazz/blues guitarist Jack Pearson; and All Mozart, a disc of her conducting the Moravian Philharmonic Olomouc on the well-known Symphony No. 40 in G minor and Piano Concerto #21 in C major (featuring the Latin Grammy–winning Sonia Rubinsky). The coming year promises more, too, including All About Bach, Vol. 1; Passions—duets with Bulgarian violinist Bojidara Kouzmanova on works by Enrique Granados, Manuel de Falla, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and more; and a duo CD called A Due with Grammy-winning soprano Ana Maria Martinez.
“I’ve had a lot of projects in my mind all these years,” Luque says by phone from her Manhattan home (she also still spends much time in Spain). “My desire was to collaborate with musicians I always wanted to work with—great players and great friends. I said, ‘Let’s make music!’ and I put my production company together so I could get my ideas out.”
And she’s brimming with ideas. In April she’s scheduled to record a disc of Spanish and Latin American music, called Apassionata, with mezzo soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera, who studied at New York’s Juilliard School of Music at the same time as Luque and Ana Maria Martinez. Then she’ll go into the studio with a soprano from Texas, Elisa Brown, to record a disc of Latin American folksongs, A mi alma latina; and she’s also hoping to squeeze in two guitar projects—one devoted to her arrangements of pieces by Isaac Albéniz, and the other her take on Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which she describes as “the most intellectual work I’ve ever done.”
Down the line she is planning discs devoted to contemporary composing giants such as Leo Brouwer, Carlo Domeniconi, and Jorge Morel, as well as Mario Castelnuevo-Tedeseco, Manuel Ponce, Granados, Francisco Tárrega, and Federico Moreno Torroba (“who not that many people play these days,” she notes). Additionally, she’s preparing for a disc of tangos, another of her own flamenco compositions, and also one of her classical compositions.
In recent years, Luque founded both Music for Life NYC—a nonprofit humanitarian organization—and, as its musical arm, the New York Women’s Philharmonic, which is made up of top players from various US orchestras, chamber groups, and soloists. Luque is the music director and conductor for the group, which raises money for various charities.
In short, Luque is a very busy woman. “I’ve been balancing my solo and orchestra performances with my recording schedule,” she says. “I also have private students at the Guitar Salon when I’m in New York City.”
Luque has come a long way since she grew up in the beautiful coastal town of Algeciras, in the Cadiz region on the southern tip of Spain, near Gibraltar. It’s an area where guitar has a long history, but even so, few would have predicted that Virginia would take up the guitar so young. “I was obsessed with it,” she says. “When I was four I was given a beginner’s guitar, and I started playing it and couldn’t stop. My father said, ‘Well, if she goes to bed and sleeps with it, there’s something going on.’” By the age of six she was studying flamenco with a teacher, and she performed in public for the first time at age seven.
“Algeciras was all-flamenco,” she says. “There was no conservatory, so flamenco was what you learned. Eventually my flamenco teacher advised me, ‘I think you should learn classical,’ because flamenco was related somehow to dark, smoky places and not recommended by society at that time, especially for little girls. It has changed a lot, obviously. So after a while I went to the conservatory in [nearby] Málaga.”
Luque also got the opportunity to study with the legendary Andrés Segovia, who happened to share a friend with Virginia’s father. The friend introduced Virginia to Segovia and she became the Maestro’s last private pupil. Luque says that even when Segovia was quite elderly, he always managed to find time to offer advice and incisive critiques to promising young players.
“I had a great experience with him,” she recalls. “He was sort of like a grandfather. He did, as people say, have a strong temper and could be demanding, but we shared an Andalusian sense of humor that made our work easier. But also, I was demanding with myself; maybe too much.
“By the time I got to Segovia, I had been through different stages of doubt and questioning—maybe I should change this and change that. During several summers, or when he was not on tour, I used to stay in Madrid and study with him for five hours a day; a very stressful time, as you can imagine. I tried to imitate his sound by imitating his position, but he said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, Maestro. I don’t have a clue! I just want your sound.’” She laughs at the recollection. “He said, ‘No, you have to develop your sound with your hands, and your hands are perfect.’ Since my right-hand position was fine, I developed my sound from that point on.”
Though Luque had already earned a master’s degree at the Conservatorio Superior de Música de Málaga, Segovia was among those who urged her to go to New York to “internationalize my career,” which eventually led to her to enrolling in the master’s program at Juilliard. How much did her studies at Julliard differ from those at the Conservatorio in Spain? “It was totally different,” she says. “In Spain, it was a very methodical learning experience. You build your basics from the beginning and you learn certain studies and methods—music theory, harmony, composition, chamber music. There are a lot subjects you have to accomplish to get a degree, and it was eight years, compared with two years at Juilliard. By the last days of the eight years you want to run away—‘I don’t want to hear another note!’” she laughs. “So on one hand it seems very rigid—going through the books—but you actually learn if you have good teachers. When you start out over this course, you’re nobody, and you build who you are and you build your career.
“At Juilliard there was much more freedom to develop my musical expertise, as I already had the musical foundation from Spain. I was already a concert guitarist before Juilliard, so actually it was a little hard for me to become a student again.”
These days, besides her concert and recording career, “teaching others how to play is very rewarding”—as it has been since she was 12.
Luque is also the artistic director of the 44th annual International Guitar Seminar, taking place August 6–13, 2016, in Reisbach, Germany, and sponsored by the Hermann Hauser Guitar Foundation, with the active support of legendary luthier Hermann Hauser III and his daughter, Kathrin Hauser IV, a fine luthier as well. The festival consists of concerts, master classes, and lectures. Among the special guests this year is Andrew York, who will perform and teach a master class. Parallel to the IGS in Reisbach is the seventh International Bach Guitar Competition— founded by Japanese guitarist Masayuki Kato—for which Luque always participates as a juror.
“I really love teaching,” she says. “I like to be able to give others the kind of help I wish I’d had when I was starting out.”
WHAT SHE PLAYS
Virginia Luque’s main guitar for both recording and performing is a 1933 Hermann Hauser I that she bought a number of years ago from a private collector in Germany. It has a spruce top and Brazilian rosewood back and sides. Her other guitars include a 2004 Manuel Velazquez, a 1960 Arcangel Fernandez flamenco, a 1986 Joaquin Garcia, a spruce Pedrini, and a maple Lubos Naprstek.