Andrés Segovia (1893-1987)
Born in Andalusia, Andrés Segovia 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 (b1941)
The Australian-born British guitarist John Williams 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.
Julian Bream (b1933)
The exceptional British guitarist Julian Bream 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 (b1977)
Born in Beijing, 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.
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 (b1983)
The Montenegro-born London-based guitarist is today’s hot ticket when it comes to classical guitar performance. 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’.
And one to watch...
Sean Shibe (born 1992)
Sean Shibe is a young guitarist from Edinburgh, nominated in the Instrumental category of the 2018 BBC Music Magazine awards for his album Dreams & Fancies. He is ambitious, adventurous and in demand for performances across the genres.
His 2018 album softLOUD showcases his experimental style, arranging pieces for acoustic and electric guitar, as well as a piece by Julia Wolfe, originally for nine bagpipes.
The BBC Music Magazine Awards jury commented on his ability to ‘draw a rainbow of colours from his instrument’. He is crafting a path for himself within the industry that is distinctive and satisfying.
In our October 2018 interview, Shibe accepts the limitations of his instrument but also looks into how these can be compensated by experimenting with instruments and repertoire, discovering ‘fabulous colours’ and the way they can ‘create illusions’.
Always full of the exciting and unexpected, Shibe's fresh approach that he brings can only be beneficial for the future of classical guitar playing.
Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.