Alirio Díaz (1923–2016)
Alirio Díaz’s reputation will endure as not only the foremost guitarist of Venezuela but as one of the premier international masters of the 20 th century. Díaz hailed from the village of Caserio la Candelaria in the western part of Venezuela. Before he was ten years old, he began learning popular-style guitar from his uncle and also performed on cuatro. Such immersion in Iberoamerican popular idioms early in his life prepared him especially well for his later involvement with the music of South American composers like Heitor Villa-Lobos and Antonio Lauro in addition to his procurement and arrangement of native Venezuelan song.
In September 1945, two months prior to his seventeenth birthday, Díaz relocated to Caracas in order to further his guitar studies under Raúl Borges and Clement Pimentel. Having also learned saxophone and clarinet in his early years, he was able to sustain himself during this period by playing in military and dance bands. He gave his first recital at the Biblioteca Nacional in Caracas in 1950. In that same year the Ministry of National Education in Venezuela granted him a scholarship to study with Regino Sáinz de la Maza at the Conservatory of Music in Madrid, which he did from 1951 to 1953. Also in 1951 Díaz joined the masterclasses that Andrés Segovia held each summer in Siena, Italy, at the Chigiana Musical Academy. Three years later he became Segovia’s assistant in these classes, a role he continued to fulfill until 1963. Highlighted by European debuts in Italy and Spain in 1952, Paris in 1954, and the United States in 1959, Díaz’s recital appearances soon fanned out across the globe. Orchestral performances included a tour of Germany in 1967 with the Spanish National Orchestra conducted by Frühbeck de Burgos and collaborations in the United States the next year with José Iturbi and Leopold Stokowski.
During the course of his long career, Díaz supplemented his concert activity with masterclasses in numerous countries and over thirty recordings. He edited dozens of scores as well. These included the works of Lauro especially, but also Sojo, Barrios, and many lesser-known South American composers, along with music of Europe from Milan to Scarlatti to Rodrigo, and a wide array of Venezuelan and Neapolitan song arrangements. Among other acknowledgments, Venezuela has recognized Díaz’s contribution to its culture by awarding him the esteemed Orden de Andrés Bello in 1963 and serving as locus of the annual Concurso Internacional de Guitarra Alirio Díaz, established in Caracas in 1974. It is now the honor of the Guitar Foundation of America to grant its 2017 Hall of Fame accolade for Artistic Achievement to Alirio Díaz as one of the classical guitar’s greatest modern luminaries.