Ronald Radford

Ronald Radford's Refrain: Flamenco is for Lovers

Flamenco is for Lovers!

The first distinguished flamenco guitarist, Francisco Rodriguez Murciano, was a contemporary of Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin. But although flamenco guitar music reached its first maturity at the very time many favorite works of the classical repertory were being composed, conventional wisdom has credited only the classical works with profound emotional or ethical significance. From such a perspective, flamenco guitar music is regarded as a charmingly frivolous ethnic novelty - to be. patronized or ignored, as one sees fit.

In a surpassingly charming program Saturday night at the Center of Contemporary Arts, flamenco guitarist Ronald Radford offered quite a different point of view. And judging from the loud Oles, the audience gladly bought it.

Radford said a wise old gypsy named Diego had told him that "the most important ingredient" in the flamenco .experience is love - the artist's love for the music, and his love for people as well. Furthermore, in Diego's opinion, everyone present is deeply involved in the process. As Radford - again quoting Diego - told his audience:" Those who listen must also listen with love." Or, in the words with which Radford introduced the evening's closing number:

"Love. ... That's what this music is all about."

It's unusual for a major artist to speak to an audience this way. True, the man has much to say. And while no one enters a concert hall expecting to hear a choice selection of inspirational stories, there's no reason why an artist shouldn't try to communicate his values by any means necessary. Any listener with half a heart heard that message loud and clear in his resplendent playing. For if his speech was often inspiring, his playing was eloquent - and stirring - beyond words.

Flamencologists (yes, there are such people) judge a guitarist above all by his skill at improvisation and by his ability to convey "duende," an untranslatable word referring to a great and spellbinding depth of emotion. On both counts, Radford's playing was impressive. And in a selection of pieces whose styles encompassed almost everything from Alegrias to Zambra, his dazzling technique became an object lesson in the astonishing feats that great talent - plus eight to 10 hours of daily practice - can achieve.

The event was sponsored by the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society.

St. Louis Post Dispatch, St. Louis, MO.