KINGSTON, R.I.-December 14, 2016- The guitar is not the first instrument that comes to mind when you think of classical music. But for University of Rhode Island guitar instructor Adam Levin, the classical guitar is his instrument of choice when capturing the essence of world classical music.
Since age 7 when his father first introduced him to the guitar, he had an interest in guitar and a love of music that eventually led to his residency in Spain in search of the essence of the ‘Spanish sound’ and commission of 30 unique and eclectic solo guitar compositions for a four-volume CD series on the acclaimed Naxos Label.
What distinguishes a classical guitar from an acoustic guitar is its construction. Classical guitars use nylon strings and metal wound over multi-filament nylon core basses. These guitars use special woods such as European spruce or cedar at the top and some type of rosewood for the back and sides. Levin’s current guitar was created by the guitar builder Stephan Connor of Cape Cod. His guitars are described by Levin as being “bold, wild, but true to centuries of tradition.”
Since many do not view the guitar as a primarily classical instrument, guitarists “use the popular image of the guitar to draw the audience in” the Boston resident said. “Guitar is a bridge to classical music, so once you draw the audience in, a bait and switch, you then introduce them to a whole new and wide variety of music from cultures around the world.”
After growing up playing the guitar outside of Chicago, Levin went to Northwestern University where he triple majored in psychology, pre-medicine, and classical guitar performance. His initial ambitions were to be a concert musician and a physician, but he soon realized that both of these professions required his full attention. He came to the conclusion that he could not imagine a life without music.
Around this period, Levin was fortunate enough to have befriended guitar virtuoso and professor of guitar at the New England Conservatory of Music, Eliot Fisk. Levin soon became his first and only private student. During his time at Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., Levin traveled once a month to Boston for his private lessons with Fisk.
“Fisk was incredible about accessing what was unique about me, which helped me cultivate my image as a soloist, chamber musician and, even more importantly, as a citizen of the world,” Levin said. “After finishing my undergraduate studies at Northwestern, I continued my studies at New England Conservatory where I continued my training with Professor Fisk, learning to become an even stronger advocate for the classical guitar, a missionary for music, and a creator of my own personal style on the classical guitar.”
Following the completion of his master’s at the New England Conservatory, Levin was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship by the U.S. Department of State, which provides merit-based grants for international educational exchange. Through his Fulbright, Levin was able to study in Spain where he was fully immersed in the culture and society for three years.
“In Spain, I represented American ideals and beliefs and got to serve as a spokesperson for what our culture stands for,” Levin explained. “It was humbling to get the opportunity to speak informally before my new Spanish friends about American life and articulate the significance of being an American citizen and musician.”
During his time in Spain, Levin studied Spanish culture and contemporary Spanish guitar repertoire. While one of his goals was to capture the sound of the music, he also wanted to explore the music of some of the great Spanish masters he grew up playing and those new Spanish masters with which he was not familiar. After realizing that Spain was going through a renaissance in composition, Levin decided to change the focus of his project. Instead of studying pieces already written for guitar, he decided to commission composers of the last four generations, from 1930 to the present. He was interested in continuing the legacy of his teachers and forebearers such as Andres Segovia, John Williams, Julian Bream, and Sharon Isbin, in the great tradition of expanding the repertoire for the guitar through the commission of new works.
“The result was an eclectic body of music with new Spanish composers at the core. The new works are intrinsically Spanish, however, they are also quite cosmopolitan. I didn’t want to be the only one to perform these new compositions,” Levin said, “I wanted to share these creations and give other musicians the opportunity to perform them as well and share this beautiful music with the world.”
Following his return from Spain, Levin reached out to record labels in the hopes of sharing his work. The Naxos label was hooked. With the company’s help, Levin organized his 30 different compositions into a four-volume series, titled 21st Century Spanish Guitar, Adam Levin, Classical Guitar. Two volumes have already been released and the third is in the works.
Also a professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, he teaches classical guitar. He feels that classical guitar is a means of traveling around the world without leaving one’s seat.
In addition to being an instructor and concert musician, Levin also helped co-found a non-profit organization called Kithara Project (www.kitharaproject.org), whose mission is to provide equitable access to the classical guitar worldwide. So far, it has projects in Boston and Yuguelito, a small community in southeast Mexico City. “There is a basic need for classical guitar,” Levin said. “Our goal is to create young classical guitarists and a vibrant and creative culture in which these students can thrive.”
Levin has been running the program for a year and a half and hopes to expand the program to other regions around the world.
“Through my work, I want to be a missionary for the guitar and ensure that music and guitar are a transformative part of people’s lives and give them the life tools necessary to achieve their ambitions. My goal is to unite them with their family and community through music education,” Levin said.
“It is not just about playing or teaching the guitar, but about serving the community and creating a society of creative citizens. Together with music activism and performance and teaching, I want to redefine the identity of the 21st century musician.”
Olivia Ross, an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department at URI and public relations major, wrote this press release.