Over the course of the last six months, Grammy-winning guitarist Jason Vieaux estimates he's spent well over 150 practice hours preparing for his debut with the Nashville Symphony this weekend. "This is the most time I've ever spent on any piece of music, ever, in my 25-year career as a performer," Vieaux told us over the phone. "That's how hard it is."
The piece is Jonathan Leshnoff's Guitar Concerto, a Latin-influenced work first performed in 2014 by the Baltimore Symphony with soloist Manuel Barrueco. "The guitarist who plays it has to be extremely accomplished," Vieaux points out, adding that he sees Barrueco as "one of the 2 or 3 greatest technical guitarists who's ever lived."
Vieaux even reached out to Barrueco briefly to discuss several passages that seemed, on paper, impossible to play. "What I'm seeing on the score, you would have to have an extremely long fourth finger with an extra joint on it," he laughs.
But with all its technical requirements, Vieaux says the piece is very accessible to audiences. "There's lots of melodies, lots of lyricism, lots of virtuosity," he explains, "and I think people will really enjoy it."
He sings the praises of Leshnoff, who does not play guitar and admitted that the instrument was the most difficult write for. "It's really a superb piece of music, I meant that 100%," says Vieaux. "It's an honor to have learned it and to play it because I think this is potentially a major, major piece for the guitar going forward."
Vieaux also says he's looking forward to playing for the first time with the Nashville Symphony, citing the great work the organization has been doing over the last years. With the Franklin-based label Naxos on hand to make a recording of the performance, it means that Vieaux and the Symphony, both past Grammy winners, could be up for another award.
"I never felt pressure to win one before, and I don't feel pressure to win another one, although it would be incredible," he says with a laugh. "It's this situation where, you know, you're just this guy from Buffalo that's doing what you've been doing your whole life... and in that sense, that's not really much pressure at all."