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David Thompson, EMI
Manuel Barrueco

There are numerous concertos and chamber pieces for guitar. Antonio Vivaldi, Niccolo Paganini (who aspired to be as brilliant a guitar player as he was a violinist) and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, among many others, have all written works for the instrument.

But none of them has enjoyed the immense popularity among audiences and guitarists as the concertos by Joaquin Rodrigo.

Of the three solo concertos and the two for multiple guitars (one each for two and four guitars), by far the most popular is the "Concierto de Aranjuez." And, not surprisingly, it will be this work that celebrated Cuban-born guitarist Manuel Barrueco will perform when he joins the Utah Symphony under the baton of guest conductor Thierry Fischer next weekend. Also on the program is Ravel's "Alborada del gracioso" and Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique."

Barrueco, who now makes his home in Baltimore, told the Deseret Morning News by phone that he always looks forward to the opportunity of playing the "Concierto de Aranjuez." "I think the piece works magically. It explores the instrument to the fullest, and it's hard to find anything more beautiful."

Orchestras as well as audiences find the piece irresistible. "Orchestras love playing it. It's the one that's requested the most. It's a winner all around."

Barrueco had the chance to meet Rodrigo, who died several years ago at the age of 98, and play the work for him. "I was at his home and played the piece in his presence. It was a pleasure to have been able to meet him."

A few years ago, Barrueco recorded the "Concierto de Aranjuez" with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Placido Domingo. "It was a great experience to work with him," Barrueco said.

Both artists were with EMI at the time. And it was a chance comment by Barrueco that brought the two together in the recording studio. "I was talking about wanting to record it. Domingo found out about it, and he said that he likes the piece, too."

Barrueco said that the Spanish tenor was the perfect choice as conductor. "When you listen to the orchestra you can almost hear him sing. Not literally, of course, but in the way he conducts the orchestra. It's incredible."

During his career, Barrueco has recorded quite a few CDs. Most of them are classical albums. But with a couple he's ventured further afield.

"Nylon & Steel" is an album of duets with guitar greats Al Di Meola, Steve Morse (from the rock band Deep Purple) and Andy Summers (of the Police). And "Manuel Barrueco Plays Lennon and McCartney" has him doing some of the great songs from the Beatles songwriting duo.

"When we cross over to another area, we have to be careful. I've done a couple of things that I think I can do well," he said, referring to the two CDs. "But no matter what music I play, I try to bring something to it. And I've had some great experiences."

Recently, Barrueco has started doing his own recordings independent of the major labels. This past summer saw the release of "Solo Piazzolla" through the Manuel Barrueco Collection on the Tonar label, a company formed especially to release his CDs.

But while classical music is closest to his heart today, that wasn't always the case. When he started playing the guitar in his native Cuba, he just played popular Latin American songs.

Barrueco comes from a musical family. "Guitar music is like a disease in my family," he joked. When his sister began learning the guitar, he also wanted to play it.

An early teacher of his told his father that he should find someone else who could teach the boy to play classical music. "At that time I didn't even know what classical music was."

When he and his family fled Cuba in 1967, Barrueco continued his classical-guitar studies in the United States, eventually enrolling at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.

He now teaches at Peabody, where he shares his love of classical guitar in master classes and with six students he teaches privately. "We have a large guitar department here. There are 40 students in the department."

Barrueco tries not to play too many concerts, so it doesn't interfere with his teaching. "I do 40 or so concerts each season. That's a good number for me. Even less would be better."

With his limited concertizing, Barrueco has plenty of time to spend with his students. "I love teaching. I love to be able to talk about the behind-the-scenes aspect of music. And I love to talk about making music."

If you go ...

What: Manuel Barrueco, Thierry Fischer, Utah Symphony

Where: Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple

When: Friday and Saturday 8 p.m.

How much: $12-$48

Phone: 355-2787 or 888-451-2787

Web: www.utahsymphonyopera.org

E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com