The night before the finals, another of the undisputed highlights of the
week-long convention was the much anticipated concert by David Russell
who, along with Leo Brouwer, was also presented with a GFA Hall of Fame
Award in a special presentation right after the finals competition. (Russell
also presided over a master class the day before his concert.) Few would
argue that Russell is among the top living guitarists, and that no doubt
contributed to his drawing a packed and adoring house to his Friday night
concert—many in the crowd were “civilians” not connected at all to the
GFA convention, eager to see this modern master.
And he didn’t disappoint. The relaxed and genial guitarist played an
extraordinary program that barely even brushed up against the 20th
century—sensational readings of a full suite by Weiss; Three Sinfonias by
Bach; “A Selection of Old Celtic Music” (three pairings of ageless,
mournful Scottish ballads with brisk old Irish dances; an exception was the
late, modern, English composer Peter Maxwell Davies’ lovely Farewell to
Stromness in the Scottish slot for the third pair); and a really attractive and
compelling eight-part suite by Stephen Goss called Cantigas de
Santiago which was “contemporary” in the sense that Goss is still with us,
but based largely on music from the Middle Ages. Goss and Russell both
expounded on the origins of the piece and its historical influences; it’s
always nice to hear the context of an unfamiiliar work.
It completely captivated the audience before the intermission, drawing loud
cheers and sustained applause.
I got the sense that the audience would have been quite content to stay all
night listening to this consummate guitarist play, but we settled for two
encores: Barrios’ gorgeous tremolo workout Una limosna por el amor de
Dios, and then, after the crowd simply would not leave, a mind-blowing
excursion through Tárrega’s fabulously extravagant and virtuosic Gran
Jota, which in Russell’s hands was just an easy stroll in the park he
dispatched utter confidence and elan. I felt so fortunate to be there to see

Classical Guitar Magazine – June 24, 2018