You have to love a classical artist — any artist, for that matter — who manages to reference Bach, German composer Hans Werner Henze and California metalheads Deftones in the same sentence.
Then again, for all his international acclaim as an instrumentalist and a résumé that includes performances as soloist with nearly 100 orchestras, the acclaimed Cleveland-based guitarist Jason Vieaux sees beyond stereotypes in the music he plays and the audiences he hopes to reach.
"I've never really worried too much about trying to keep within one style of music," says Vieaux, a featured artist for multiple concerts this week at The Chamber Music Festival of Lexington. "My listening interests are really pretty varied. They always have been. I mean, I'll always record classical music. But for me, music by Hans Werner Henze is as different from Bach in some ways as Deftones, or something like that. In my ears, they are that different. Sometimes I think we get a little too wrapped up in categories and genres and such. I guess I'm just a big music lover. That's my thing."
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Variety has always been as essential to Vieaux's musical outlook as the precision of his playing. Over the past decade, he has devoted entire albums to the music of jazz guitarist Pat Metheny and tango pioneer Astor Piazzolla. But his 2014 album Play offers perhaps the best example of his stylistic reach by placing pieces by Bossa Nova master Antonio Carlos Jobim, British film composer Stanley Myers and jazz icon Duke Ellington alongside works from Spanish guitar giant Andre Segovia, Paraguayan guitarist Agustín Barrios Mangore and American guitarist and lutenist Andrew York.
"I was kind of a '90s CD age recording artist where you were encouraged to make a CD that would focus on one composer," Vieaux says. "Back in the late '90s and early 2000s, the classical recording companies said that was basically the standard. You did an all-Bach record or all Chopin, all Liszt or all Beethoven. You didn't make a recital disc. They didn't allow it. They didn't want to have a thing where if you were a pianist you went, 'Well, I'm going to play Scarlatti, then I'm going to play a Beethoven sonata and then I'm going to play something by Liszt.' It's like they didn't do records like that anymore.
"So this was fun because we're now getting back to that idea. Every piece on the CD represented something very special to me."
As it turned out, Play and the concept it represented played out well for more than just Vieaux's fanbase. It won a Grammy Award in February for best classical instrumental solo.
"That was a shock," he says. "That was a total shock. We were just working away and doing our thing and it's awesome. But what it means is a lot of people voted for that CD that clearly we don't know. To be recognized by that many of your peers is tremendous."
The sense of variety surrounding Play also underscores Vieaux's mini-residency for The Chamber Music Festival of Lexington. In addition to a trio of collaborative performances at Fasig-Tipton Pavilion, the guitarist will play a cabaret style concert of his own at Natasha's on Thursday. The show is an invitation of sorts to audiences not devoted to — or even familiar with — classical repertoire to enjoy his playing.
"Actually, I'm very comfortable with those kinds of settings. I did a thing for the Leeds Center in Lincoln, Neb., where they had me play two sets in a cabaret setting. It was an old-timey jazz thing where you did two 45-minute sets or one hour sets. There was a little bit of chatter. But basically everyone was eating, drinking and listening, and it was super fun.
"To be perfectly honest, classical artists have to build our audience. We have to build for the future. We can't have this kind of ivory tower attitude of either you get it or you don't — this 'you come to us' attitude. We have to come to you, and there is nothing wrong with that. Classical musicians are now finally on point about this kind of thing."
The If You Go box on this story was changed from its original version to show the correct price for the Aug. 27 concert at Natasha's.