As a teen-ager, Alexandre Lagoya decided to take up boxing--a rather dangerous choice for a budding classical guitarist. Fingernails, not to mention fingers, tend to break easily in hand-to-hand combat.
"That was a time in my life when it didn't really matter," Lagoya recalls with amusement. "Actually, music and boxing proved a good spread of teen-age emotions.
"I think such contrasts are good in life."
Contrasts are important to Lagoya. Now 55, he continues to improve his respected culinary skills ("I'll write a cookbook in about 14 years," he promises). Musically, he devotes much of his time to a busy solo career, while continuing to perform in partnership with other musicians--the context most guitar aficionados have become accustomed to since his days, about 30 years ago, as half of the Presti-Lagoya Duo.
In fact, when the guitarist returns to Royce Hall on Friday, it will be for a sold-out joint recital with flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal.
And what about boxing? "I'll only put on the gloves if someone annoys me," he replied wryly.
In a phone conversation from New York, Lagoya, a French citizen of Greek and Italian descent, speaks amiably (and with only occasional help from a translator) about life on and off stage, with and without a partner.
"I gave my last solo recital when I was 22, the year I was married (to guitarist Ida Presti). We performed for 15 years together. We gave more than 2,000 concerts throughout the world." Then, suddenly, Ida died in 1967.
"I stopped performing altogether for a year," he notes. It was five years before he toured again, a decade before he returned to the United States.
"Normally, it is very difficult to play in front of the public. In my case, it was more difficult. I was alone."
The experience of concertizing with Presti was a rich one for Lagoya. "It was a great teacher for me," he says. "Now, I try to use many different colors when I play, to create the sound of two guitars."
The pleasures of duo-recitals continue to beckon, of course. "I'm not a strict loner," he insists. "I don't like just one instrument--I like many instruments. I don't like just one woman--I like all women."
In addition to Rampal, Lagoya has performed with violinist Isaac Stern in recent seasons. "If my partner is good, yes, I like to play with others. I like very much to play with an orchestra, if it is good." If it is not? "Then, I can only wait for the cadenzas."
Lagoya's partnership with Rampal began quite early, he says. "I met him in Paris when I was 20. We were in the Quartetto Schubert. We've played together regularly enough since then."
A notable collaboration with the French flutist was the recording of cross-over composer Claude Bolling's "Picnic Suite," a rare venture into jazz for Lagoya--though not his first exposure.
"Back in 1954-55, I was good friends with (jazz guitarist) Django Reinhardt. We would get together and play. I would play Bach for him, he would play jazz for me." Did they jam together? Lagoya laughs at the memory. "Oh yes. When we drank too much. Then, all the mistakes sounded good."
Would he consider teaming up with another guitarist? "Maybe in the future. Next summer, I will give a concert with one of my students."
Still, the guitarist's enthusiasm for music remains undiminished. "I can play the same piece every night and it will always be different," he says. "I hope I die on stage. It's better than in bed."