When classical guitarist Andrew York was growing up in Virginia, he’d play air guitar at family sing-alongs.
“One day they looked – I was about 6 – and I was playing the chords,” York said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.
The New Mexico Classical Guitar Festival will showcase York’s grown-up fretboard wizardry in Keller Hall at the University of New Mexico next weekend.
York is part of a lineup featuring the Brazilian-born Santa Fe guitarist Roberto Capocchi and Cuban maestro Rene Izquierdo. The festival includes a series of workshops, lectures and master classes.
At 1 p.m. Sunday, students will perform “Playground,” a piece the festival commissioned York to write specifically for the event.
York’s 7-year-old daughter provided the inspiration for the four-part suite.
“She likes to climb around and stuff,” he said. “I can’t wait to hear it and conduct it.”
Both of his parents were musicians. His father played guitar; his mother sang in jazz clubs. His own style borrows from multiple genres: the Beatles, Bernstein and Bach. Add Joni Mitchell for some exotic tunings.
Post-family sing-alongs, York began studying classical guitar at 8. “Once the hormones kicked in, I switched to rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “I wanted to become Joe Walsh or John McLaughlin. I loved really lyrical players.”
The first time he heard the Air Force’s big band play in Washington, D.C., he switched to jazz. He moved to L.A. to become a studio player.
He earned a Grammy Award as a 16-year member of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. But he soon returned to his classical roots.
“It’s the most interesting” form, he said. “Obviously, I had the chops and I studied. In my music that I write I draw from everything I know – Renaissance structure, counterpoint; I draw from the possibilities of classical music.”
His Albuquerque program will include original compositions as well as selections from Bach’s Fifth Cello Suite in C minor. To duplicate the original sound, he tunes his guitar like a cello.
“I love Bach,” he said. “He was probably the greatest musical genius of all time. I’m playing it exactly like the cello would.”
His opening piece, “Glimmerings,” was written in a lute tuning.
“It’s the same turning they used in the Renaissance,” he said. “The five movements are all in slightly different styles.”
“Centerpeace” is an arrangement of a piece he performed with guitarist Andy Summers.
“The Equations of Beauty” is the working title of a new suite.
“It’s harp-like and ethereal,” he said. “The styles are all over the place.”
His most recent solo recording “Yamour” was released on vinyl as a double LP and took the number one spot in Acoustic Guitar Magazine’s “Essential Recordings of 2012.”