Classical Guitarist David Russell Lets His Fingers Do the Working

A native Scot who still has a perceptible burr in his voice may not be the stereotypical classical guitarist, but David Russell came by his interest naturally.

“My father was an amateur guitarist,” says Russell, who plays next week at UCLA. “When I was about 6, we moved to Spain, and all the kids in the village were also playing.”

He took it up seriously when he was 14. “I was fairly lucky that things worked out well, that my fingers could do the work,” he said. “My career blossomed before I really knew what was happening.”

Now 37, Russell can boast as blue-blood a pedigree as any guitarist, taking first place in the Andres Segovia and Julian Bream competitions, plus the Tarrega Prize.

Tarrega, the patron saint of the modern guitar, is the focus of Russell’s Royce Hall recital Thursday. Russell has also recorded the complete works of Tarrega on a double CD last fall, which is due out this month.


The program has a modern homage to Tarrega on the bill, but none of Russell’s characteristic contemporary ear-stretchers.

“I got married six years ago, and my wife doesn’t like atonal music. It’s hard to practice, or even believe in it when those around you don’t like it,” Russell says. “That’s partly just an excuse. I got caught up in playing the big pieces in the big cities. We want music to be able to develop, but we don’t want to alienate audiences.”

When Russell is not touring, he calls Vigo--in the northwest corner of Spain--home. So far, though, he has spent only five or six nights there this year.

“This both good and bad, in the sense that we all want work, but this year things got out of hand,” Russell says. “Next year my management is trying to get me more time. It’s hard to develop my repertory this way--also my handicap is going up!”