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My Date With Segovia


“Segovia, I thought he was dead?” That is my reaction as my wife points to an advertisement in our local Edinburgh newspaper for a recital of classical guitar by Andres Segovia.

“Apparently not,” is her sensible response.

It's a long time ago. I was a few years married. A night out locally to hear someone famous appealed.

I've always loved classical guitar music and at the time Segovia was the name. He was a celebrity in classical music circles, in fact, he was a celebrity in any circle. This wasn't before celebrity was invented but it was before celebrity culture where the vacuous can be famous for being famous. In those days celebrities did stuff. In an antediluvian version of Pointless, in answer to the question, name a classical musician, Segovia might well have gathered 83 points. But yes, shamefully, I did think he was dead.

So, two tickets purchased, we turned up at the King's Theatre, me still doubtful that I was really going to see this legend of the guitar in the flesh. We settled in our upper-balcony seats and waited, staring down at a dark, empty stage.

Five minutes later the theatre fell silent as a tall young man strode onto the stage carrying an upright chair which he placed centre stage. Well, whoever he was he wasn't Segovia. He left and seconds later returned with a guitar stand which he placed beside the chair. Again, he left and this time returned carrying a guitar which he placed on the stand with great care. By this time the audience was buzzing with anticipation.

Then applause broke out as the helper appeared at the edge of the stage, this time arm in arm with a tiny wizened old man. Slowly the stooped figure shuffled across the stage supported by the younger. He was helped onto the chair and his right leg physically lifted and crossed over the left for him. As his guitar was taken by his helper and placed in his hands, I felt only intense disappointment and embarrassment. I knew the evening was going to be a let-down. The man was crippled, why was he putting himself through this charade? This would be a memorable concert for all the wrong reasons. By this time the audience had fallen silent. I wasn't the only person wondering why they were there. My consolation was that we could leave at the interval.

Then the old man strummed a chord, followed by another, and another – and so began one of the most glorious musical evenings I've ever experienced.

Notes and chords danced from his fingers showering the audience. One piece ran into the next without pause. I had seen no programme and I'm sure there was none. Segovia simply moved from one tune to the next as the mood took him, notes tumbling over a mesmerised audience. He strummed the guitar, he attacked it, he caressed it like a lover. There were one or two familiar pieces but most of the music was new to me. It didn't matter as it was mostly impossible to see the joins in any case. He played without pause or hesitation for perhaps forty or forty-five minutes. When he stopped, a stunned audience sat silent for a moment. Had he really stopped? Then applause broke out and the audience were on their feet as Segovia was helped from the stage by his minder in a reverse of the procedure that accompanied his arrival, guitar placed on stand, legs uncrossed, helped to feet, shuffled off-stage.

The second part of the recital was the same with different tunes. There was only one pause while he re-tuned the guitar, sorry … the heat, and off he went again.

I returned home, light-headed, convinced I had witnessed something beautiful and remarkable, perhaps even historic. I had. Six months later on second of June 1987, Segovia died aged 94.

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