Grammy award winning classical guitarist David Russell held a three-day guitar residency at the Manhattan School of Music, sponsored by the Augustine Foundation. Russell was named a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in London, his alma mater, in 1997, in recognition of his talent and career achievements. In May 2003, the town of Es Migjorn in Minorca, Spain, where Russell grew up, bestowed the honor of claiming him as their “adopted son” and naming a street after him, Avinguda David Russell. In 2003, he received the Medal of Honor of the Conservatory of the Balearics and in May, 2005, the Music Conservatory of Vigo, Spain opened a new auditorium named in his honor.
In addition to his busy international concert schedule, David and his wife María devote themselves to financing projects for water extraction, water well construction, hydraulic infrastructures and improved conditions of drinking water in underdeveloped countries. They have also contributed vastly to the improvements of a school for handicapped children in Bangalore, India, for two schools in the Andhra Pradesh province and for the María Soliña School in Orissa, India.
Prior to Russell’s concert for The Art of the Guitar Concert series, held on the exact date of the 92nd Street Y’s 140th anniversary, he held three sessions of three-hour-long master classes spread over three afternoons with students in the guitar program at the Manhattan School of Music.
For the last day’s session, Russell coached five students, starting with Eoin Flood, a student of Mark Delpriora who is in the Professional Studies (1-year post-Masters) program. Flood performed Joaquín Rodrigo’s Fandango (from Tres Piezas Españolas). Russell advised him on the finer points of apoyando technique.
First-year Manhattan School of Music graduate Adam Bilchik, a student of David Leisner, performed Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude (from Lute Suite), BWV 996. Russell pointed out that the physiognomy of the right hand is such that the annular finger is closer to the bridge of the guitar and therefore it is easier to create a stronger, brighter sound unintentionally, at times. With some of the ascending phrases in this piece, Russell felt it was best not to begin playing them with the thumb because it created “too much of a punchy sound” with the first notes. “One golden rule is, if a chord has a third on top, be fragile with it,” Russell said.
Yen Lee, a doctoral student who studies with David Starobin, performed Wenzeslaus Matiegka’s Variations on a German song by Haydn (from Grand Sonata No.2) on her Hermann Hauser I guitar. Russell remarked, “This is the same piece yet it keeps trying on different clothing throughout.” He joked that its ending is written in such a way that “it sounds like the record got stuck,” and suggested altering color and timbre for variation. “With a piece like this, one needs to be continually charming throughout in order to convey its magic,” he advised. Among his many bon mots of the evening, Russell pointed out, “If you want to give a certain word or note extra emphasis and importance, you…delay…it a little bit.” Also, “The difference between fantastic and too much is a fine line. You want to go from fantastic to just enough.”
Freshman Cristian Garcia, a student of David Leisner, performed Antón García Abril’s Evocación No. 3, a gentle, sentimental waltz. With the ascending phrases, Russell suggested, “Let everything get louder but then don’t let it get loud at the top of the phrase.”
The last student to perform was freshman John Andrew, a student of Mark Delpriora. He played the Chanson (from Sonata III) by Manuel María Ponce.
When asked how to develop tone, David Russell said, “Tone compliments the musical idea. Tone itself should serve as color does to a painting or drawing. If the drawing is good, the color should enhance it. Of course, there is some artwork out there that is entirely about color but what I am saying is that tone balances the instrument. The angle one uses to pluck the string inwardly and outwardly, from the right angle of the nail or the left, will alter the quality of tone.”
When asked if he uses Vaseline on his fingers to deal with sticky digit perspiration when executing fast passages, he said no. “But the discreet scratch of the nose to lubricate the strings is always a dead giveaway.”
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David Russell is an interviewee in My First Guitar: Tales of True Love and Lost Chords (ECW Press).
Russell’s YouTube channel.