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After attending Jamesville-Dewitt High School in Dewitt, New York, Class of 1972, Fisk also studied interpretation under harpsichordists Ralph Kirkpatrick and Albert Fuller at Yale University, where he graduated summa cum laude in 1976. After graduation, he was asked to form the Guitar Department at the Yale School of Music. He won first prize in the International Guitar Competition in Gargnano in 1980 in which jury members included Oscar Ghiglia and Alirio Diaz, and Ruggiero Chiesa. Fisk was the last direct pupil of Andrés Segovia. In the mid 1990s Segovia's widow, Emilia Segovia, Marquesa de Salobreña, asked him to premiere and record original works of Segovia discovered after the Maestro's death in 1987.
He is a professor at the Universität Mozarteum Salzburg in Austria, where he teaches in five different languages, and in Boston at the New England Conservatory. His students have come from many countries, and many have gone on to become important performers and teachers in their own right.
Fisk lives in Boston, Salzburg, and Granada, Spain with his wife, Zaira, and their 12-year-old daughter, Raquel. For many years he used a handmade Thomas Humphrey Millennium guitar and now exclusively plays guitars made for him by Stephan Connor of Cape Cod Massachusetts. He received the Grand Cross of Isabel la Cátolica on June 10, 2002, from King Juan Carlos of Spain. Earlier recipients have included Andrés Segovia and Yehudi Menuhin. Fisk earned the award for contributions to Spanish music as an interpreter and teacher.
Career and evaluation
An innovative performer, Fisk is known for an adventurous repertoire and willingness to take art music into unusual venues, including schools, senior centers and even prisons. He has received critical acclaim in recital, as a soloist with major orchestras and in a wide variety of chamber music combinations. In 1996 he appeared in a command performance in the Palacio de los Cordova in Granada, Spain, for then U.S. President Bill Clinton and King Juan Carlos and their families.
Fisk is founder and director of Boston Guitar Fest, an annual event held in the month of June at the New England Conservatory. This workshop is dedicated to exploring new technical and musical possibilities of the guitar within an international cultural context. He has expanded the repertoire for the guitar through transcriptions of works by Bach, Scarlatti, Haydn, Mozart, Paganini, and others, as well as through commissions from various composers including Luciano Berio, Leonardo Balada, Robert Beaser, Wiliam Bolcom, Xavier Montsalvatge, Nicholas Maw, George Rochberg and Kurt Schwertsik. His transcriptions and editions are published by Universal, Presser, Ricordi and Guitar Solo Publications.
His recordings for the Musical Heritage Society, DGG, Arabesque, and EMI have been much praised and even entered the Billboard charts as bestsellers. Many of these recordings include repertoire never before performed on the guitar such as his reading of the 24 solo violin Capricci, Op. 1 of Paganini, and his recordings of contemporary works by Berio and Rochberg or his recording with Paula Robison of Robert Beaser’s Mountain Songs, which was nominated for a Grammy.
Fisk's efforts in unconventional musical territory have included collaborations with chanteuse Ute Lemper, Turkish music expert Burhan Öçal, jazz, jazz guitarists Bill Frisel, Joe Pass, and master of castanets Lucero Tena. Upcoming projects include the premiere of a new quintet for guitar and strings by Leonardo Balada with the Miro String Quartet, the premiere of a new guitar concerto by Robert Beaser, and a nationwide tour of the US resulting in a duo CD with flamenco guitarist Paco Peña.
- "He constantly stretches himself and his instrument technically [...] And yet I had to notice, as in Fisk’s previous visit that I attended, wildly fast tempos that became unsteady and led to wrong or smudged notes.
- "In several of the caprices, as arranged and played by Eliot Fisk, one gets an impression that they are either unsuitable for playing on the guitar or the musician has been stretched beyond his technical capabilities. [...] A reasonable observation is that Mr. Fisk may have bitten off more, technically, than he can chew."
- "A hallmark of virtuosity is precise and accurate execution of certain passages very quickly, and exercising good musical judgement within the context of the music. Laudable though his arrangements and intentions may be, Mr. Fisk fails to give a convincing performance in those caprices that require execution within the criteria defined. Some, irrespective of the speed at which they are traditionally played on the violin, may benefit in his hands if their tempi were decreased, and winning the Paganini Derby given a lower priority."
- [...] Eliot Fisk opened the second half with a lute prelude and his arrangement of the Chaconne from Bach's D minor Violin Partita. If the steady tread and the cumulative magnificence of that great movement can be achieved on the guitar, they were not apparent here.
Views on guitarists
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Eliot Fisk has said:
- "It's true that Segovia didn't get compositions from Bartók, Stravinsky, Prokifiev and a lot of composers we would like to have pieces from. Maybe he was in a position to have done that, but on the other hand, who among us has done as much as he did? If other people were interested, they could've tried to commission them. Besides, this criticism of Segovia is pointless. If you disagree with what Segovia did, take that energy and go out and do something positive. Otherwise, shut up."
- "Now, it's different when John Williams, who studied with Segovia, says he wasn't a good teacher and the like. There is a difference in generation. [...] I didn't have Segovia butting into my life, telling me to do this and that. That's why John needed to rebel violently."
- "My rebellion is in truth against Bream and Williams; because I have to confess I'm a bit disappointed in both of them. From time immemorial, it has been the practice of one generation to pass on to the next what it learned. But my generation has almost no guitar fathers. Ghiglia and Diaz taught and were accessible, but Bream and Williams were not. [...] They've both given immensely. But growing up, I was very saddened by their inaccessibility. I feel that my generation lost a lot because of that. In a way, we all need to rebel. The next generation will rebel against us. It's one thing I encourage when teaching. I want to give my students the strength to tell me to go to hell. 'Cause if they can tell me to go to hell, they can tell the world. Ultimately, that will help them, not to be difficult but rather to have conviction for the long struggle."
- Guitar Music of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco with Czech Phiharmonic Orchestra,
- Richard Kapp, Conductor · The Shanghai String Quartet · Musical Heritage Society
- J.S. Bach The Six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord
- BWV 1014 - 1019 · Transcribed by Eliot Fisk for Violin, Guitar, and Cello · Benjamin Hudson, violin · Eliot Fisk, guitar · Gyorgy Vognar, violoncello · GOOD International
- Mountain Songs with flutist Paula Robison
- Robert Beaser's Cycle of American Folk Music · MusicMasters 67038-2
- The Artistry of Eliot Fisk
- Two-disc sampling of previous recordings (various composers) · Musical Heritage Society
- Vivaldi Concerto in D Major for Lute, RV. 93, Largo
- J.S. Bach The Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin
- Two disc set: BWV 1001 - 1006 · MusicMasters
- Canciones Latinas with Paula Robison, flute
- Works by Villa-Lobos, Ponce, Peramo, Casals, Piazzolla, Ginastera and Ovalle plus traditional folk melodies of Latin America · MusicMasters 67193-2
- Segovia Canciones Populares
- Premiere recording of original compositions and arrangements by Andrés Segovia · MusicMasters 67174-2
- J. S. Bach Trio Sonatas with Albert Fuller, Harpsichord
- The 6 Trio Sonatas BWV 525-530 transcribed for guitar and harpsichord · MusicMasters 67182-2
- Paganini 24 Caprices
- 24 Violin Caprices transcribed for solo guitar · MusicMasters 67092-2
- Bell'Italia: Four Centuries of Italian Music
- Scarlatti, Frescobaldi, Locatelli, Fiorillo and others
- Scarlatti Sonata in A Major (originally in F Major), K. 274, Andante
- MusicMasters 67079-2
- Scarlatti 18 Sonatas
- Harpsichord sonatas arranged for solo guitar by Eliot Fisk · VGo Recordings VG 1003
- Für Eliot
- Scarlatti, Martin, Ponce, Paganini, Relly Raffman · GSP 1008
- The Best of Eliot Fisk
- Paganini, Sagreras, Barrios-Mangoré, D. Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Mozart, J. S. Bach, Rochberg, Beaser and others · MusicMasters 67151-2
- Berio, D. Scarlatti, Paganini, Mendelssohn, Beethoven · MusicMasters 67150-2
- George Rochberg Caprice Variations
- 50 Variations on Paganini's 24th Caprice · MusicMasters 67133-2
- Vivaldi Concerti
- Vivaldi Concerti and Other Works with the Orchestra of St. Luke's · ; MusicMasters 67097-2
- Eliot Fisk Plays Guitar Fantasies
- Mozart, Couperin, Sor, Poulenc, Weiss, Dowland, J. S. Bach and others · MusicMasters 67008-2
- The Latin American Guitar
- Ponce, Sagreras, Sojo, Lauro and Barrios-Mangoré · MusicMasters 67127-2
- Eliot Fisk Performs Works by Baroque Composers
- J. S. Bach, Frescobaldi, Scarlatti · MusicMasters 67130-2
- Virtuoso Guitar
- J. S. Bach, Scarlatti, Froberger · MusicMasters 67128-2
- The Classical Guitar
- Mozart, Haydn, Paganini, Soler · MusicMasters 60034-2
- Two American Virtuosi with Carol Wincenc, flute
- Giuliani, Gossec, Ravel, Milhaud, Godard, Poulenc and Bartók · MusicMasters 60059-2
- Latin American Guitar Music
- Ponce, Barrios-Mangore and others · Angel Records 47760-2
- Eliot Fisk Plays Villa-Lobos, Sojo, Morel, Barrios-Mangoré
- EMI Classics 14 6757-1
- Eliot Fisk
- Dowland, Philips, Howett, Holborne, Britten and Others · EMI Classics 27 0217-1
- The Spanish Guitar
- Granados, de Falla, Turina · EMI Classics 27 0216-1
- Tosone, Jim. (2000) "Classical Guitarists: Conversations", McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0813-8.
- "Review: Eliot Fisk". Austin360, David Mead, October 6, 2008.
- "24 Caprices - Review". Musicweb International, Zane Turner, May 2008.
- "Music Review; Cantatas At Each Hill In a Year Of Bach". New York Times; James R. Oestreich; July 25, 2000. July 25, 2000. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
- Classical guitarists: conversations by Jim Tosone (McFarland, 2000; ISBN 0-7864-0813-8)
- Eliot Fisk official web site
- Fan site for Eliot Fisk
- Masterclass on YouTube
- Paganini's Caprice No. 24 on YouTube
- Some photos of LP covers (Oviatt Library Digital Collections)
- Julia Crowe's Interview with Eliot Fisk.