Born December 17, 1944, in São Paulo, Brazil, Carlos Barbosa-Lima grew up in the “Brooklyn” district of the city. He began playing guitar at age seven. Barbosa-Lima recalls that his father hired a music instructor to teach him the instrument, and after two years of lessons with Benedito Moreira, the young Carlos was introduced to guitarist-composer Luiz Bonfá, one of Brazil’s leading musicians. At the recommendation of Bonfá, Carlos was referred to Isaias Savio for further study. Carlos publicly debuted as a soloist in São Paulo in November 1957, when he was twelve.
Immediate rave reviews led to invitations for the young guitarist to make his concert debut in Rio de Janeiro, then the Brazilian capital, in 1958. This was preceded by his television debut on a variety-style TV show. In 1960 Barbosa-Lima began life on the road, and he continues to travel extensively. In 1967 he made his American debut in Washington, D.C. Excellent reviews again followed, and the guitarist’s concert career soon expanded throughout the United States as well as Central and South America. Barbosa-Lima began writing his own arrangements at this time, and in 1964 he released an album of such arranged works, originally composed by popular Brazilian songwriter Catullo. Barbosa-Lima traveled to Madrid, Spain, in 1968 to play for Andrés Segovia. Upon his return to the United States, he gave a concert in New York’s Town Hall. The year was 1970. At its conclusion Harold Shaw of Shaw Concerts offered to organize additional tours for him across the country.
In 1974 Barbosa-Lima took a teaching position at Carnegie Mellon University. During this time his reputation as a world-class guitarist began to blossom, and composers began writing works for him. One such composer was Alberto Ginastera, who wrote his Sonata, Op. 47, for Barbosa-Lima. This work subsequently became a warhorse in the guitar repertoire and a rite of passage for true virtuoso guitarists. The year 1977 saw Barbosa-Lima perform Francisco Mignone’s Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra, which the composer dedicated to him, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
The 1980s and Antonio Carlos Jobim
As the 1980s began Barbosa-Lima moved to New York City and took a teaching post at the Manhattan School of Music. Once in New York, Barbosa-Lima began performing with jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd. Byrd soon introduced Barbosa-Lima to Carl Jefferson, the owner of Concord records. Jefferson signed Barbosa-Lima and eleven recordings followed on the Concord Jazz label. In 1982 Barbosa-Lima made contact with fellow Brazilian Antônio Carlos Jobim, one of the world’s most popular composers. Jobim was immediately impressed with Barbosa-Lima’s arranging technique for guitar. “Barbosa-Lima,” Jobim observed, “brings an ear attuned to counterpoint and technique that gives each independent line its own voice. His transcriptions find and define every moving part, in bossa novas and countermelodies together as he does in Gershwin, he sounds like a team of guitarists.”
Currently Barbosa-Lima records for ZOHO Music and has released five titles under this label. His recordings as well as his concert programs convey a distinctive Latin-American viewpoint. In April 2010, Barbosa-Lima celebrated the release of his fiftieth recorded release, Merengue (ZOHO 200911), at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.
On April 12, 2013, Carlos Barbosa-Lima, fellow guitarist Larry Del Casale, and the Latin GRAMMY-winning Havana String Quartet issued Beatlerianas, an all-Brouwer CD that features the Cuban composer’s arrangement for guitar and string quartet of seven Lennon-McCartney songs (ZOHO 201304). This recording was nominated for a Latin GRAMMY in November 2013. One writer commented, “These musicians, as gifted as any in the world, accept the challenge of works by Brouwer that are both technically and intellectually demanding. Their genius, of course, is in making their program’s complexities subservient to the heart. Exuding soulfulness with every thoughtfully picked guitar passage, with every elegantly formulated string part, Beatlerianas hits you where you live.”
Barbosa-Lima’s imaginative concert programs have broken down the increasingly obsolete dichotomy between popular and classical music, thus redefining the role of the classical guitar for the twenty-first century.