CARLOS BONELL has been described by Classical Guitar Magazine, UK as “one of the great communicators of the guitar world”. He has recorded more than twenty albums and played in forty countries, with concert appearances ranging from intimate recitals to concertos with symphony orchestras.
His latest album Magical Mystery Guitar Tour, inspired by his association with Sir Paul McCartney, is dedicated to the music of the Beatles in Carlos’ own arrangements for solo guitar. It went to number one on the UK iTunes classical album charts in May 2012.
Carlos was born in London of Spanish parents in 1949. He started to play at the age of five, learning to play Spanish folk music on the guitar from his father who was a keen amateur guitarist, while also studying the violin more formally at school. He completed his studies at the Royal College of Music with John Williams, where he was appointed the youngest ever professor at the age of 22. His solo début in 1971 was a sell-out concert at the Purcell Room in the Royal Festival Hall, London; his concerto début was with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1975.
Early recordings and tours
In 1975 Carlos released his first LP recording Guitar Music of Spain. The following year Carlos recorded a Grammy nominated album with John Williams and Friends for CBS with the unusual instrumentation of two guitars, marimba, xylophone and double bass. The group performed throughout the UK for several years.
Photo: LP album cover for Guitar Music of the Baroque, 1977
Carlos’ New York début was at the Lincoln Arts Centre in 1978. The next day the New York Times described him as “an artist of superb poetic gifts”. Appearances at many international festivals followed including The City of London, Aldeburgh, Helsinki, Israel, Tanglewood, Sydney, Istanbul, and Hong Kong.
The Aranjuez Concerto
In 1981 Carlos made the first of three recordings of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Recorded in Canada with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Charles Dutoit for the Decca label, it was the first-ever digital recording of the concerto and was hailed as “a magnificent triumph” by Classical Music magazine. It was awarded a coveted rosette by the Penguin CD Guide and has been frequently singled out ever since as the finest version available.
1986 proved a high point for the popularity of Carlos playing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez: he presented it five times in London’s Royal Festival Hall with the The Royal Philharmonic, the London Symphony, The London Philharmonic and the English Chamber Orchestras.
Between 1987 and 1995 he recorded seven albums ranging from music for solo guitar to concertos with the English Chamber and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras. His concerts included the premières of works by Humphrey Searle, Stephen Oliver, Howard Skempton, Richard Charlton, Ottavio Négro, Barrington Pheloung and others.
With John Williams at the Wigmore Hall
Photo: benefit concert at The Forum, Kentish Town, London with John Williams and Paco Peña, 1999
In 1995 Carlos gave a landmark benefit concert at London’s Wigmore Hall with John Williams to raise awareness of the plight of children caught in acts of war around the world. All proceeds were donated to the organisation War Child. This was one of many appearances with John Williams during a lifetime’s association. Other artists with whom Carlos has recorded and appeared in concert include guitarists Paco Peña and Martin Taylor, violinists Pinchas Zukerman and Salvatore Accardo, and singers Patricia Rozario, Teresa Berganza and the late Philip Langridge.
In 1997 Carlos visited Australia for the first time, returning several years later in a nationwide tour including all the major cities. After his first visit to Latin America in 2000 he returned every year until 2007 to play with Venezuelan orchestras associated with El Sistema, working closely with some of the younger players prior to performances. This led eventually to recording the Queen Guitar Rhapsodies album with the Lara Symphony Orchestra who pioneered El Sistema.
London International Guitar Festival
2005 also saw the first London International Guitar Festival, of which Carlos was founder and artistic director. The festival has remained to this day the largest guitar festival ever presented in London with events in five major concert venues. It included an 80th birthday tribute to Venezuelan guitarist Alirio Díaz with his participation and that of other Venezuelan musicians; concertos with the Chamber Ensemble of London; and duets by Carlos with John Williams and the flamenco dancer Elisa Perez-Saponi.
Sir Paul McCartney
In 2006 Carlos began to help Sir Paul McCartney who is composing a concerto for guitar and orchestra. Over many meetings he has notated and recorded drafts of the guitar part. The work was featured in a June 2007 cover article by The New Yorker magazine.
In 2010 he returned to Japan for an extended tour and initiated a concert series in London called the Transformations Music Series, presenting innovative guitar-related concerts at London’s Bolivar Hall, a venue with one of the finest acoustics in the heart of the capital.
Carlos is greatly in demand as a teacher, conducting international teaching courses in Italy, Spain and the UK. In addition to his teaching as senior professor at London’s Royal College of Music he is Profesor Invitado at the University of Guanajuato.in Mexico. In Venezuela he was awarded the Cátedra Internacional de Guitarra Carlos Bonell in recognition of his teaching activities.
Photo: Guanajuato, Mexico, 2011
Magical Mystery Guitar Tour
Throughout his career Carlos has devised and presented themed programmes which have attracted new audiences to the classical guitar. They include The Life of Joaquín Rodrigo in His Own Words and Music with Cecilia Rodrigo reciting the words of her father; Tribute to Lorca in Words and Music in memory of the great Spanish poet and musician; Millennium Guitar, the First 1000 Years released on CD in 1999; and Magical Mystery Guitar Tour, released on CD in 2012, which is dedicated to the music of the Beatles in Carlos’ own arrangements for solo guitar.
As well as going to number one on itunes, Magical Mystery Guitar Tour also entered the UK itunes Top Ten singles’ charts.