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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Perusing Peru’s delights and surprises

- My week at the International Guitar Festival in Lima -

You may not know this, but much of my time at Music Festivals is spent with my hands wrapped around a knife and fork, rather than a guitar. Sitting at the table takes up a considerable portion of time at such events, and who am I to complain? And so it was this week in Peru, with surprises at the table, beyond it and even under it!

I arrived in Lima on Saturday 8th September for the Festival Internacional de Guitarra Vivace Peru featuring Alisson Alipio (Brazil), Mauricio Opazo (Chile), Victor Hugo Ñopo (Festival Director), Dúo Matices (flute player Flor Vega Guerrero and guitarist Hugo Castillo Vargas, both from Peru), Daniel Morgade (Uruguay) and yours truly from London, England. My journey had taken me from Mexico, still in the throes of summer. Call me absent-minded if you like, but I had overlooked a detail: Peru is in the southern hemisphere, and consequently coming to the end of winter. I have to admit I felt slightly absurd stepping out from the airport into a cool winter’s night and chilly breeze sporting a panama hat and a light jacket, but I put a brave face on it for the sake of my very charming hosts Victor Hugo Ñopo and his wife Rocio who had come to meet me and take me to the hotel.

If you believe coincidences are part of a secret design then you will enjoy this. By chance, the last person I spoke to before departure at Mexico City airport was Simone Iannarelli, the wonderful Italian guitarist-composer, into whom I bumped on my way to the departure gate. He was arriving, and I was leaving. By chance, the first person I spoke to on arrival at Lima airport was the taxi driver who had driven me on my first visit to Lima last year. Together we had tried to negotiate our way through police check-points and private security sentry posts on a hair-raising but quite legal journey through the heavily guarded port area – I felt like a hero in one of Graham Greene’s exotic novels, but that’s a story for another time. There he was standing right in front of me the moment I emerged into the arrivals’ hall, that´s the driver, not Graham Greene. I ask you, do these chance encounters mean anything? And if they do, what?

From coincidences which surprise to surprises that are no coincidence: Lima is a grandiose city with post-independence government buildings rubbing shoulders with heavily ornate neoclassical Spanish-style architecture. It shares with London a grey tendency in the sky department with endless cloud cover day after day, complete with a fine and persistent drizzle. Surprise number two: Lima displays all the signs of a newly found, and still developing, affluence. Surprise number three: Peruvian cuisine is exquisite. When you get the chance try the Japanese-influenced raw and semi-raw fish with a Peruvian twist; try Anticucho, which are slices of hearts of veal; try lucuma, a thin green fruit with a shiny bone in the middle; try a glass of Pisco, a sweet and frothy alcoholic beverage distilled from the grape, strong and invigorating, one glass only for two will go to your head and three will knock you out. That’s what I thought as I enjoyed a taste, and no more, of Pisco on the lunchtime of my last show! Is Peruvian cuisine the next best thing waiting to seduce our palettes throughout the world?

Another surprise: as I took time off to stroll through Lima's Miraflores area, I was reminded of Parisian cafés and the Montmartre of yesteryear. There in the Café Haiti Haiti I spotted – how shall I put it delicately – some unusual looking people including a most eccentric and characterful man with wavy grey hair dressed in a grey suit to match, with a rose in his lapel and a piercing look in his eye (in both eyes actually). He looked both distinguished and scary. On enquiry from my hosts he turned out to be a well-known poet.

But enough of sight-seeing, I wasn’t in Lima as a tourist but to play and teach and be president of the jury in the competition. For my full-length programme on Tuesday I chose to play the five preludes by Villa-Lobos, the suite in E-minor by Bach, the chaconne in A major by Weiss, music by Tarrega, El Polifemo de Oro by Smith-Brindle and to close two of my Beatles’ arrangements, Strawberry Fields and Here Comes The Sun, whereupon the audience became very excited indeed. As encores I played my arrangements of Yesterday and Los Cuatro Muleros. For my first concert in Peru I had presented a mix of guitar classics from the mainstream repertoire, and to end my own personal twist of Beatles and Spanish music arrangements. I played on a guitar by Juan Menduiña, the very same one I had used in Derry at the end of August. This time it was unamplified and produced quite an impression through its projection and quality of sound.

You may be impatient to learn what the surprise was lurking under the table, to which I referred right at the beginning. It was a sweet tiny sparrow-like bird picking at crumbs from my breakfast table on the hotel terrace. I think it took a shine to me, because by the third day it flew up from underneath to the top of the table and hopped on both legs to within a few inches of my marmalade spread.

And beyond the table, back at the Fest? The National Guitar Orchestra of Peru of some fourteen players made a truly wonderful sound together. It is directed by Daniel Morgade who coaxed a deep warm tone from each and every one of these very fine players, many of them young professionals. The Festival is in its infancy, harnessing the enthusiasm of a growing local fraternity, and a new audience drawn from music lovers of all ages and backgrounds eager to explore the new. Their excitement was tangible, it energized and inspired me in my performances. And that alone, dear reader, was worth the trip to the land of Attahuallpa the Sun King, the last Emperor of the Incas.

14th September, Lima, Peru

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=1609 .
© 2019.

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