There is scarcely a hint of swaggering self-confidence in the way guitarist Terrence Farrell talks about his career. Which is just as well, considering that his is hardly a household name.

Says Farrell, who appears in recital tonight at 8 in the UC Irvine Fine Arts Village Theatre: “When you’re 21, you want to be Segovia, but Segovia didn’t grow up thinking he was going to be Segovia. It’s nice to have that dream stuff, of course. Today, there’s just too much instant gratification . . . .

“Yet, as you grow older, you adjust to all that fantasizing and gradually begin to be happy with yourself.” At 33, the Carmel-based musician is decidedly happy. “Cloud Nine” is the way he describes it.

His contentment, he points out, comes partly from the fact that he built his reputation by going the non-conformist route. The usual routine of playing standard Baroque and Spanish pieces in stiff concert settings year in and year out never particularly interested him.


“Older musicians talk about the ‘traditional’ way of reaching success,” he said. “If you pursue that, you’ll end up teaching somewhere, touring Europe every 10 years. Traditional values are passe.”

Farrell’s untraditional approach has involved almost constant travel--most of it overseas. Since his professional debut in 1976, he has toured Europe and the Orient several times, playing for the natives as well as at the various American embassies.

And he has developed a relaxed, conversational stage manner that, he soon discovered, made him and the music he played more immediate to his audiences.

“I was taught not to talk,” he recalls. “But around 1979 or ’80, I went to a recital by (baritone) Sherrill Milnes. He personalized the music. Then, around the same time, I heard (guitarist) Julian Bream, who also addressed his audience.


“They got me to change my mind. Now, I’ll introduce a piece by talking about the composer, the piece or perhaps recounting an anecdote or two.”

The response to these spoken introductions has been favorable: “I think the person who doesn’t like talk from the stage is in the minority. I do a lot of rural concerts now, and the people there really appreciate it.”

Of course, when Farrell travels to the Orient--he recently returned from China, will go to Japan in a few weeks and is booked for a land tour of Asia next year--he allows his guitar to do more of the talking.

The Chinese have a particularly keen interest in the guitar, he says. “You go into any general store in a Chinese city, and there will be maybe four instruments, a violin and a flute, maybe, but there will always be a guitar.”

Surprisingly, the most memorable moment of his recent tour came not in China, but in Bali. “I’m very interested in a Balinese Monkey Dance I found. It’s a mesmeric sort of piece, and I was struck by its similarity with an etude by Villa-Lobos (No. 11). I taped long sections of it, and I’ll try to develop a transcription out of that.”

As will be apparent at UC Irvine Wednesday night, his repertory has enough offbeat touches to keep an audience intrigued. The first half is devoted to dance tunes from Bach to Granados, and a trio of “pop” pieces by American composers such as Joplin, Gershwin and Bernstein come in near the end of the second half.

“I like to think of what an audience--an ideal audience--might enjoy,” Farrell says. “I want to give them music that is essentially Terrence.”

One day soon, that first-half collection of dance tunes might include the Balinese Monkey Dance. To hear Farrell describe it, that, too, will be “essentially Terrence.”