KINGSTON, RI – September 21, 2021 – A veteran of many albums, classical guitarist Adam Levin had never had the pleasure of seeing any of his recordings hit the Billboard charts. Now, in the span of 10 weeks, he’s done it twice – clinching # 1 with two different albums.
In June, “Music From the Promised Land,” her debut album with mandolin and guitar chamber group Duo Mantar, reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Albums chart. This time it is his solo work, “21st Century Spanish Guitar, Volume 4, ”which topped the charts the week of September 4 – sharing a space on a list with big names such as composer John Williams, violinist Hilary Hahn, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Natalie Zhu.
“I am definitely in good company. It’s humbling to know that I’m surrounded by such powerful superstars, many of whom have influenced a generation or more of young musicians, ”said Levin, professor of classical guitar at the University of Rhode Island. “I hope my rise to number one on the Billboard charts will have a positive impact on the classical guitar world and its future trajectory, especially in the promotion and dissemination of new music.
“I am thrilled with these two album hits because I have invested the last 15 years in expanding the classical guitar repertoire,” he added, “whether as a soloist or with one of my chamber music groups including Duo Mantar, Duo Sonidos or The Great Necks Guitar Trio.
“21st Century Spanish Guitar, Volume 4 ”, released August 20 by Frameworks Records, is the culmination of 15 years of researching, courting composers to write for guitar, commissioning and recording a repertoire that covers four generations of new Spanish composers. The four volumes include more than 30 commissioned works, almost all of which have never been recorded before.
“It really answers the crucial question: what comes next in the long line of Spanish composition,” Levin said. “We have a source of original compositions and transcriptions by Joaquín Rodrigo, Manuel de Falla, Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados, Joaquín Turina, among others – pillars of Spanish composition who established the 20e– its Spanish classic of the century. I grew up studying this music, playing it when I was young, and then in my mid-twenties I wondered what the future of classical Spanish music was.
Levin, a protégé of virtuoso Eliot Fisk at the New England Conservatory, began seeking an answer as a Fulbright scholar in Madrid, Spain, in 2008, offering to study and perform Spanish music written from the 20e and 21st centuries. He quickly realized he had landed on a “new Spanish songwriting renaissance,” he said. The last four generations of Spanish composers created music as unique and vital as their legendary ancestors.
“Arriving in Madrid and downloading hundreds of dollars of music from iTunes, I realized that Spanish music was much more varied, diverse, complex, layered and cosmopolitan than I had ever imagined before,” he said. -he declares. “Music had an unmistakable Spanish DNA, but composers no longer sought only the quintessential Spanish sound, but the cross-pollination with music of other cultures, genres and centuries of themes, forms and styles of composition.
Apart from Gabriel Estarellas – Levin’s Fulbright mentor and guitar teacher at the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música in Madrid – no one defended this music. So Levin took charge of the mission himself.
Since 2008, Levin has commissioned nearly 40 new chamber and solo pieces from four generations of Spanish composers, all of which have appeared in the “Spanish Guitar of the 21st Century” series or other recordings. Some of the composers are descendants of legends – like José Luis Turina, grandson of Joaquín Turina. The project was supported not only by a Fulbright Fellowship, but also by a Kate Neal Kinley Memorial Fellowship, the Cultural Cooperation Program and several private sponsors.
The final volume in the series – a double CD recorded at a converted Masonic temple in Roslindale, Massachusetts, with engineer John Weston, and in Badajoz, Spain, with engineer Luis del Toro – includes pieces by master composer Leonardo Balada , born in 1933; his disciple Jorge Muñiz, born more than 40 years later, and composers in the intervening years. The 11 tracks range from the avant-garde in José Luis Turina’s “Arboretum” to the American bluegrass flavor of Muñiz’s three-part “Portraits from the Heartland”, to the Sephardic tradition in Broton’s “Sonata Sefardita”.
Highlights include the very first recording of the electrifying “Concierto de La Herradura” by Cuban-Spanish composer Eduardo Morales-Caso, in which Levin is supported by the Extremadura Orchestra under the baton of Álvaro Albiach. “With his vibrant and personal voice, the concerto is fascinating,” said Levin. “Morale-Caso has a natural understanding of the guitar and writes music in a way that places him among the best composers to have written for the instrument.”
Levin credits Fisk with lighting the fire under him to study in Spain, while also acknowledging Estarellas for being a guiding force and liaison with many renowned Spanish composers, including the late Antón García Abril and Cristóbal Halffter. But the most enriching and inspiring moments came working alongside these living classical composers.
“Working with composers is a unique and inspiring experience and provides us with the critical information needed to give the most compelling performance possible,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of speaking with Bach, Scarlatti, Sor, Albeníz or De Falla, or one of the many great composers of the past. For these composers, we must rely on secondary and tertiary sources to interpret their work.
In addition to being a touring artist and music advocate, Levin teaches at URI and the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is also the co-founder of Kithara Project (www.kitharaproject.org), whose mission is to improve the lives of children and young people through the classical guitar.
The Kithara Project runs four tuition-free community guitar programs throughout the year in Boston, Albuquerque, and Mexico City. She is currently finishing a fundraising campaign and has started building a music school in the community of Yuguelito in Mexico City. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Through his 12 albums, his goal has been to expand the classical repertoire for future guitarists.
“This project is futile if I can’t make the connection with the next generation of guitarists. For my students, my goal is to bridge the gap between the sounds and traditions of old world Spanish music and the compositional trends in Spain today, ”he said.
“My pedagogy is imbued with sensitivity, adaptability, flexibility and openness to music and musical forms across cultures and the history of music,” he added. “With this philosophy in mind, we have the ability to listen to music in a different way, and to make more informed and authentic interpretations. Being a musician comes with the responsibility of pushing boundaries and walking a tightrope. Exploring new music is one of those tightrope acts and crossing it together will undoubtedly open a new frontier for us. “