Six of the best... classical guitarists

We name six champions of the classical guitar who have shaped its sound in the last century

Six of the best... classical guitarists

Andrés Segovia
Born in Andalusia, Andrés Segovia (1893-1987) is regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. He made a name for himself as a teenager after developing his own guitar technique that involved plucking with both fingernails and fingertips.
A key influence on future generations of players, he transformed perceptions of the guitar and brought it into huge concert venues around the world, receiving commissions from composers. In 1929 Villa-Lobos dedicated his 12 Etudes to the guitarist. Ever the showman, Segovia played to rapt audiences, from his landmark Paris concert of 1924 right up until his death in his 90s.
His idiosyncratic style and overtly romantic approach to playing won over legions of fans and helped secure his legendary status.


John Williams
The Australian-born British guitarist John Williams (b1941) is renowned for a technique that displays pinpoint accuracy and articulation. Initially taught by his father, Williams attended summer schools and studied with Andrés Segovia. After his Wigmore Hall debut he became a regular face on TV, commissioning guitar concertos by composers such as André Previn and Stephen Dodgson.
As well as performing duets with Julian Bream (below), he became famous for his chamber/rock fusion group 'Sky' that made the pop charts, and his own version of the Stanley Myers piece ‘Cavatina’ became an international hit.
A BBC TV documentary, John Williams at the BBC, is being broadcast this April.


Julian Bream

The exceptional British guitarist Julian Bream (b1933) was inspired to take up the instrument by listening to his father, who played jazz. After receiving a guitar for his 11th birthday he rapidly progressed. Bream was a champion of British classical composers, encouraging a wave of new commissions for classical guitar such as Malcolm Arnold’s Guitar Concerto (1959) and Britten’s Nocturnal After John Dowland (1963).
When Walton wrote his Five Bagatelles (1971) for Bream, the composer was famously concerned about the first six notes being played on open strings. ‘When he begins to play the audience will probably think he’s tuning the bloody thing up!’ quipped Walton.
The guitarist also revived interest in the Elizabethan lute, founding the Julian Bream Consort in 1960. He received an OBE in 1964.


Xuefei Yang

Born in Beijing in 1977, Xuefei Yang was the first Chinese classical guitarist to enter a music school in her country. Later,  John Williams presented her with two guitars after hearing her play, to help her and fellow students at the Beijing Conservatoire.
Since 2000 she has been based in England and has become a favourite of the critics, with The New York Times applauding her for ‘feisty virtuosity, impeccable technique and sensitive musicianship’. Among the music she has helped to add to the repoertoire are Chinese works by composers such as Chen Yi.


Craig Ogden

The Australia-born guitarist Craig Ogden was tipped in 1995 by BBC Music Magazine as a ‘worthy successor to Julian Bream’ when he released a disc of works that Bream himself had performed, including Tippett’s The Blue Guitar and pieces by Britten, Walton and Lennox Berkeley.
Studying the guitar since the age of seven, Ogden went on receive a fellowship from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, being the youngest instrumentalist to have received this award. He is now principal lecturer in guitar at the RNCM and hosts Guitar Weekends at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall, with performances ranging from  Takemitsu to Rodrigo.


Miloš Karadaglić

The Montenegro-born London-based guitarist is today’s hot ticket when it comes to classical guitar performance. Miloš Karadaglić (b1983) is the cover artist on the current issue of BBC Music Magazine. Karadaglić began playing at the age of eight and was inspired by the example of Andrés Segovia  and others who sought out new repertoire for the instrument.
The guitarist filled the Albert Hall in 2012 for the venue’s first solo classical guitar recital and, since signing to Deutsche Grammophon, his recordings have regularly topped the classical charts. He gained a five-star review in the magazine for his disc Aranjuez, which was praised for his ‘feather-light touch, honeyed tone and warm bass’.


You can read more about the guitar in the February issue of BBC Music Magazine – a classical guitar special. Inside we interview Miloš Karadaglić, discover the legacy of Andrés Segovia, and much more.

We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here