SAN DIEGO — In this era of high-tech music merchandising--televised-by-satellite superstars and opera divos who perform in sports palaces--a few legendary musicians remain larger than hype. Andres Segovia, the 93-year-old Spaniard who restored the guitar to the realm of classical music in the 20th Century, belongs to that dwindling circle.
San Diego guitarist Fred Benedetti will be one of a dozen performers selected to participate in the Andres Segovia Master Class and Commemorative held at USC, beginning Wednesday. The eight-day festival sponsored by the USC Music Department "is meant to be a tribute," said Prof. James Smith, head of USC's classical guitar department and organizer of the event. "It's commemorative in the sense of bringing to memory the many important activities of the man--not a memorial to him."
In addition to the master classes held each evening, afternoon sessions will celebrate Segovia's career with rare recordings, films of performances and classes--including footage of the master playing on the "Ed Sullivan Show"--and panel discussions featuring noted Segovia students such as Christopher Parkening and Michael Lorimer.
According to Smith, the university will videotape all of the proceedings to make a documentary for public television. Since the master is 93, such opportunities to document Segovia's tutelage are dwindling. Unlike his last visit to USC in 1981, the nonagenarian will not perform.
Benedetti was chosen from more than 100 applicants, each of whom submitted a 15-minute tape. Among the 12 guitarists selected to work with Segovia in the USC master classes are musicians from Brazil, Canada and Iceland; the rest are from the United States.
Like most serious guitarists, Benedetti holds Segovia in a certain awe.
"I think of him as more than a great performer," he said. "What he did for the guitar is similar to what Einstein did for physics."
A member of the Grossmont College music faculty and an instructor at La Jolla's Bishop's School, the 28-year-old San Diegan is appreciated locally for his versatility as well as for his musical facility. In the San Diego Opera's recent production of Peter Maxwell Davies' "The Lighthouse," Benedetti was called upon to realize the treacherous guitar part in the intricately constructed chamber orchestra score.
"My part was technically very difficult," he said, "but since Davies had worked a lot with (guitarist) Julian Bream, he never put anything in the score that was physically impossible, as some contemporary composers do who don't know the instrument." Not only was Benedetti required to double on tenor banjo in "The Lighthouse" score, he also assisted a percussionist with a few notes on the bass drum while she was otherwise engaged.
Local audiences had become accustomed to hearing Benedetti perform in the Orion Duo with guitarist Dan Grant. The Orion Duo appeared twice with the San Diego Symphony and made two recordings. This nine-year musical collaboration ended suddenly two years ago, when Grant died of a heart attack.
In another duo called Opus II, Benedetti now performs classical repertory with oboist Karen Victor. The Benedetti Trio, which includes cellist Jeffrey McFarland-Johnson and flutist Robert Williams, plays five nights a week in the main lobby of the U.S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego. For the last four years, Benedetti has also appeared with Zmiros, a klezmer quartet.
" Klezmer music is such a far cry from what I'm used to doing," Benedetti said. "It's raw, earthy music--not austere at all. We get up, and we sing as well as play."
Klezmer music, which is enjoying a surprising revival, is an eclectic combination of folk and popular music from the 1920s that flourished among the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. "Yale Strom, the leader of Zmiros, has even written some pieces for solo guitar in klezmer style which he calls 'classical klez,' " Benedetti said.
"Another benefit of playing with Zmiros is the opportunity to play mandolin, which my father and I play together." At the age of 8, Benedetti took his first music lessons from his father, an amateur classical guitarist.
Although Benedetti was born in Sasebo, Japan, he grew up in San Diego, attended San Diego City College, and graduated from San Diego State University in 1981. Benedetti studied with Celin Romero and took master classes with Parkening, but he readily credits Roberto Torres, his first teacher, as his major musical influence.
"Torres came here from Mexico in the early '60s," Benedetti said. "Before the Romeros came here, he was No. 1." Benedetti admired Torres' playing as well as his pedagogy. "At a lesson he would say very little, except, 'Play that passage again,' until I figured out the best solution. He made me learn to make the best choices."
Before college, Benedetti's guitar studies were intermittent, with baseball usually winning the upper hand.
"I was a pitcher and a catcher," he said. "I was small, but I had a mean curve ball. That's why they kept me on the roster. When they needed someone to cause a little trouble for the other team for a few innings, they stuck me in."