The Asia Pacific Peace Studies Institute (APPSI) at HNU hosted an event on April 12 in the Valley Center for the Performing Arts with Julio Reyes, a second-year music student at HNU and an experienced guitar player and musician. Reyes delivered a lecture on the music of renowned Paraguayan composer and guitarist Agustín Barrios and performed a selection of Barrios’s pieces later in the evening.
At the start of his lecture, Reyes talked about Barrios’s early life and schooling. Barrios took up the guitar at an early age. At the urging of his first formal instructor, Gustavo Escalda, Barrios went to Asuncíon, the capital of Paraguay, to study music at the Colegio Nacional, where he was given a scholarship.
Barrios was a virtuoso guitar player and an incredible improviser. According to Reyes, Barrios’s habit of improvising was due to his ideas about the purpose and power of music. “Barrios believed music was such a sincere form of communication that it could never be done the same way twice.” As Reyes mentioned in his lecture, there is a story that one of Barrios’s friends, Martín Borda y Pagola, once locked Barrios in a room with a guitar and wouldn’t let him out until he actually wrote down some of his compositions.
Reyes spoke about Barrios’s career and explained how it was affected, in many ways, by the influence of the guitarist Andrés Segovia and his students. Reyes explained that, perhaps in reaction to Segovia’s international fame, European bearing, and ambitions for the guitar to be considered a classical instrument, Barrios decided to pursue a different direction. He assumed a persona and began giving concerts under the name Cacique Nitsuga Mangoré (Nitsuga is Agustín backwards, and Mangoré was the name of a Guarani tribal chief who had resisted the Spanish). Barrios billed himself as “the Paganini of the Guitar of the Paraguayan Jungle” and decorated the stage with palm fronds and fake toucans.
Barrios and Segovia encountered each other several times throughout their lives, but, as Reyes remarked, while Barrios respected and admired Segovia, Segovia did not seem to hold Barrios in high esteem. On one occasion, Reyes said, when both musicians were in Buenos Aires at the same time, Segovia asked for Barrios to play one of his compositions. At the meeting between the two men, Barrios played La Catedral, a multi-movement piece that is considered one of his masterpieces. Segovia complimented Barrios on the piece and asked for a copy of it so that he could play it in his concerts, though there is no record of him ever playing it in public.
Reyes posited that Segovia did not appreciate Barrios’s music because of his own rigid beliefs about the guitar. “Barrios wrote folk music, and Segovia wanted to elevate the guitar from the cantina, from its use in the serenata.” Reyes later remarked, “From Segovia, guitarists learn technique—where to place your hands, how to use vibrato, how to hammer-on—but from Barrios, you learn how to play from your soul.”
During the second half of the event, Reyes played selections from Barrios’s music, including La Catedral, Julia Florida, Una Limosna Por El Amor de Dios, and others.
Reyes gave his first guitar recital at the age of 12 at the Old First Church in San Francisco, and the following year, won an award at the International Agustín Barrios Guitar Competition in Mexico City, where the next youngest competitor was 17 years older. Since then he has performed in Europe, the U.S., and Paraguay. After high school, he received a scholarship to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where he studied with George Sakellariou and David Tanenbaum. Reyes worked for the Oakland Symphony for four years as Assistant Conductor to Kent Nagano and the Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra. As a freelance conductor, he has worked with the Youth Symphony of Paraguay, with members of the Vienna Philharmonic for a performance at the Residentzplatz in Salzburg, Austria, and with Prince Albert of Monaco’s private orchestra at the Monaco Opera House. Most recently, he conducted members of the Manaus Symphony Orchestra in a pops concert at the Opera House of Brazil. His CD, Heart Strings, is available on Amazon.
Reyes’s lecture and performance was presented by APPSI and co-sponsored by the HNU Core Program in Integrative Studies Across Cultures and the HNU Music Department. Learn about other upcoming APPSI events on the calendar page.