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April 18, 2014

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“Whoops and roars” at a … classical guitar concert?

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Tiffany Brown

Ricardo Cobo is an award-winning, internationally acclaimed classical guitarist.

At the intermission of the April 23 classical guitar concert featuring Ricardo Cobo and Christopher McGuire at UNLV’s Doc Rando Recital Hall, I overheard two different groups of friends jokingly refer to their hanging out between acts as “tailgating.”

It made me laugh, then think. Classical guitar in Las Vegas? Of course, there is no cultural reference point for this in a city of clubs, neon and millionaire productions. So Las Vegans at such an event must import concepts from that world to make sense of what they’re seeing and hearing.

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Cobo and McGuire have dedicated great chunks of their professional lives to organizing classical guitar concert series in their adopted hometowns of Las Vegas and Dallas-Forth Worth, respectively; Friday was the finale of UNLV’s 2009-2010 Classical Guitar Series.

So what did nearly 2 million people—who weren’t among the 300 or so tailgaters—miss?

The choice of pieces reflected Cobo’s Latin heritage and McGuire’s early studies in Spain, ranging from Brazil’s Heitor-Villa Lobos to Argentina’s Piazzola and Venezuela’s foot-stomping música llanera. McGuire also included a loving tribute to flamenco with his own composition, “Tio Pepe.”

And speaking of tailgating, after more than a decade of living here, Cobo seems to have grown so comfortable before the local audience that he relaxedly bantered between songs, repeatedly pulling out what he called a “cheat sheet” from the breast pocket of his red-and-black shirt. In fact, his very entrance was greeted with whoops and roars, announcing a decorum that would break from the stuffiness one might associate with a classical concert. Most of the noise came from a smattering of students, presumably his students; the crowd ranged from jeans to suits, from late teens to seniors.

Cobo in particular has dedicated decades to bending genres, bringing classical audience ears to hear folk rhythms borne from the Spanish diaspora to the Americas, or the jazz in Piazzola’s tango, or the European waltz in Dilermando Reis’s Sao Paolo poems “Se ela preguntar” and “Promessa” (both of which he played in Friday’s concert).

Juxtaposing Cobo with McGuire made one think of the dichotomy—technique/passion. At times, it seemed McGuire’s handling of Villa-Lobos or his own evocation of flamenco were consumed by the intention of technically controlling the difficulties in each. Cobo’s playing is loose and relaxed, full of passion and rhythm.

The night’s finale, a duo of Vivaldi’s “Concerto in D Major,” seemed only to benefit from the familiarity between the two friends and Cobo’s sense of rhythm.

In the end, these two classical-guitarists-turned-activists for their instruments triumphed before the full but small hall because they had brought something else to Las Vegas, something worth tailgating.

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