Evangelist of Guitar


Of all the instrumental subcultures within the classical music world, one of the most insular and yet passionate is that of classical guitar.

Because the guitar is a fledgling instrument compared to other instruments, and because of its intimate dynamics, it has long existed in a dim-lit musical niche.

But that's changing, thanks in part to the efforts of such people as Nikita Koshkin, the Moscow-based composer-guitarist-teacher, who will give a concert of his music at CSUN tonight.

It's not surprising if Koshkin fails to register as a household name. But he is one of the boldest figures on the guitar scene, an influential composer for an instrument desperately in need of a larger repertoire of music.

Koshkin will give the kickoff concert of the American Guitar Society International Concert Series tonight. The series continues with Venezuelan Luis Zea (Nov. 22), the Falla Trio (Feb. 21), Greek guitarist Elena Papandreau (March 7) and concludes with the Czech, Vladislav Blaha.

This evening's concert is part of Koshkin's second visit to the United States. Earlier in the trip, he recorded his first album of his own compositions, though other guitarists have recorded his music.

In Russia, Koshkin takes on multiple roles--creative, educational and organizational--to keep the guitar scene alive there.

"I think this is specific to Russian life," he said in an interview from Arizona. "Everything is out of order and disorganized, so the best way is to try to organize something yourself. Then, probably, it will work, and I always hope that people will follow. My dream [for myself] is to stop all activities except for composing. But for now, it's not possible." Koshkin's recognition as a composer dates back many years, but he began performing only his own music in 1990. Part of his goal is to expand the available library of music composed expressly for guitar.

He took as his inspiration the pianist and composer Frederic Chopin, who, during his lifetime, Koshkin said, "devoted his creative life to music for the piano."

"I got this idea that nowadays guitar is the instrument that needs more repertory, by comparison with other instruments like violin and piano: They have an ocean of music, and excellent music. It's not the same with the guitar."

Some of his earlier music drew on the inspiration of literary models, including the well-known "Usher Waltz (after Edgar Allen Poe)," a fanciful piece of music that tells a story by combining bittersweet melodies with a madcap deconstruction.

Koshkin will perform that work, as well as the longer suite from 1980, "The Prince Toys," loosely based on a tale of a prince whose toys come alive and wage mutiny.

The concert will open with his "Homage to Andres Segovia," after his greatest inspiration.

"I was very interested in guitar when I was 12 or 13," Koshkin said, "but it was in rock music. When I heard Segovia's playing on records--I wasn't able to hear him live--his playing turned me to classical guitar."

It changed the direction of his life, he said, and made him eternally grateful to Segovia.

"When I found out that he died, I wrote this piece as a tribute to him, because I'm still grateful," he said. "I tried to not make it a funeral piece, but a nice remembrance, because I think his life was great. He managed to do so many things, and so much for the guitar."

However slowly the process of evangelizing for the classical guitar goes, Koshkin has been encouraged by the warmth and closeness of the international guitar community.

"Guitarists are obliged to be together," he said. "That's how it has survived through the centuries. Also, guitar is a very friendly instrument. It has this power for bringing people together. For instance, I did a master class in Glendale and saw so many different students there, from very young people to older ones. They were all united by this love for the guitar."


Nikita Koshkin, Tonight at 8 at Cal State Northridge, Recital Hall, 18111 Nordhoff St. Tickets are $12. (818) 677-2488.

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