Guitar tells story of Latin America

If you've never seen classical guitar performed in a concert setting, this is not something to pass up.

Playing the guitar in a way the guitar forgot it could be played, Ricardo Cobo searches out every note and elicits the collective musical memory of Latin America.

Cobo brought his music to North America from his childhood home of Cali, Colombia. The Colombian city is a warm, green metropolis. There were bullfights and Salsa and the sounds of Afro Caribbean rhythms pouring into the street. And lots of dancing.

And years ago, there was a 7-year-old boy who picked up the guitar and never put it down.

"I heard the sound of the guitar and couldn't shake it," Cobo said.

Since then, he has become one of the best classical guitarists of his generation. He made his professional debut at age 16 on a nationwide telecast with the Orquesta Filarmonica de Bogota. He was the first Hispanic to win the Guitar Foundation of America International competition. He has performed everywhere from New York's Carnegie Hall to Korea's Ho Ham Hall and, on Tuesday, he will perform at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Steamboat Springs.

On Tuesday night, Cobo will present a program of music from Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.

"The guitar was very popular in Colombian music, but unlike American music where it is the electric guitar, when you talk about guitar in Colombia you are talking about nylon strings or acoustic," he said.

The concert begins with a 19th-century piece by Napoleon Coste as a point of departure. Listeners will be pulled in by the familiar sound and easily led by the musician into more obscure pieces.

The evening ends with two tangos by avant-garde Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla, "the greatest living legend of tango," Cobo said.

"As you listen, expect really beautiful colors, interesting rhythms and dazzling effects on the guitar," Cobo said. "This music is very passionate and provocative. It tells a story."

As the music weaves from Paraguay to Peru to Chile, it builds "a very fascinating quilt," he said. "I have a deep fascination with this music. It's really fun, and there is nothing stuffy about it.

"You can call it magical realism with a lot of detail."

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