“Michael Lorimer is one of the most talented young guitarists of these times and is the one that I appreciate the most.” -- Andrés Segovia, 1984
belongs to a small group of artists under whose musical shadow the guitar has developed. Many of us, directly or indirectly, have received instruction about the guitar, its musical function and its repertoire through his performances, articles, books and, if touched by divine providence, through an off chance talk with him after a concert in New York City.
Lorimer began his guitar studies at age 11, was soon performing in recital, and within five years sought Andrés Segovia for lessons in Siena and Santiago de Compostela. Perhaps distrustful of an American teenager, Segovia at first steered Lorimer toward Segovia's assistant in Siena, the great Venezuelan guitarist Alirio Díaz. When the seventeen-year-old Lorimer played Sor's Grand Solo, Op. 14, Díaz advised Lorimer to study it with Segovia since Díaz did not know this piece. Still, the road to Segovia's appreciation hadn't been paved yet. That moment arrived when Lorimer played Joan Manén's Fantasía–Sonata, Op. A-22, a highly complex piece written for Segovia that now, almost fifty years later, still has not received the attention it merits.
“That’s all I have today,” said the young Lorimer, when he finished performing. Segovia embraced him. “That’s quite enough,” he replied, and then added, “If you continue to play like that, you will be one of the great guitarists.”
This event, coupled with Lorimer's unquenchable inquisitiveness, intelligence, poise and humor earned him a position of great respect, affection and trust, even with regards to artistic matters: Lorimer selected some guitars that Segovia played in concert. In short, Michael Lorimer became Segovia's favorite protégé. The famed impresario Sol Hurok, who managed many great twentieth-century performers including Segovia, engaged Lorimer as well, and arranged concert tours in the 1970's which earned Lorimer fame in the United States and abroad. Lorimer played in important halls such as New York’s Tully Hall, Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, London’s Queen Elizabeth Auditorium, and Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Hall, and he was the first American guitarist to tour the USSR. Lorimer also recorded for the BBC and was the star of the television special The Artistry of Michael Lorimer, which appeared nationwide in the USA on PBS.
At the time of Segovia's legendary master classes in Siena and Santiago de Compostela, many things about the evolution of our instrument were so new, so infant, that some of them did not have proper names; and it is here where Mr. Lorimer's first great contributions to our development arrived, many of which we cannot rescind, for example, the use and design of nails for proper tone. At the time of Segovia's classes, the theory of tone on the guitar was not theory; it was alchemy. The use of nails was even somewhat debatable, finding friction among those from the Tárrega tradition who advocated the use of finger flesh for proper tone. In a day when Segovia’s tone was considered a divine and irreproducible manifestation of unique genetics and genius, Lorimer tried to figure out what Segovia was doing. He experimented with files and papers, learning how to prepare his own nails. Then, he began to file, finish, and sound the strings with his students’ own nails. Observing Lorimer’s “hands on” approach, some colleagues scoffed, "Lorimer is now a manicurist!" Jokes aside, Lorimer helped clarify our understanding of tone production and its pedagogy; his tack is now followed worldwide.
The expansion of the guitar repertoire has been an intense interest for all guitarists, and Michael Lorimer's contributions in this regard are ample, and they vastly differ from those of his contemporaries. One piece in particular is worth mentioning: Spiral by Karlheinz Stockhausen. In 1966-67, Lorimer attended Stockhausen’s classes at the University of California, Davis. The following year, Stockhausen invited Lorimer to Darmstadt and to Madison, Connecticut to work on a guitar piece that eventually became Stockhausen’s Spiral. Although Spiral evolved into a piece "for any soloist," its original conception and dedication was for Michael Lorimer. In the early 1960s, Lorimer was the first to arrange and perform lute works on the guitar which have since become staples in the repertoire, such as Dowland’s Fantasia 7 and several complete sonatas by Silvius Weiss. In 1965, he played chitarrone in Alan Curtis’s production of Monterverdi Poppea–the first-ever recording of a complete baroque opera on original instruments. Alongside his work with the modern guitar, Lorimer was the first world-class guitarist to regularly feature the baroque guitar in recitals. By the mid-1970s one London critic said, “If Lorimer is not the best baroque guitarist in the world at present, the competition has still to present itself.”
In 1987, Lorimer brought to light a milestone of guitar repertoire, the best surviving collection for any instrument of early eighteenth-century Spanish dance music. He published a detailed study and facsimile of the Saldívar Codex No. 4 and identified it as the companion volume to the British Library manuscript Passacalles y Obras (ca. 1732), a legacy of Santiago de Murcia.
Alongside exploring the legacy of the Renaissance and Baroque, Lorimer also collaborated in the creation of new guitar works by important living composers including William Albright, Leslie Bassett, William Bolcom, Curtis Curtis-Smith, Thea Musgrave, William Neil, and others while, at the same time, performing, editing, and publishing works by guitarist composers including Ernesto Cordero, John Anthony Lennon, Ernesto García de León, John Major, Atanas Ourkouzounov, and more. Besides premiering the many pieces written for him, Lorimer premiered the guitar concerto Torroba wrote for Segovia, Diálogos; he was the first guitarist after Segovia to perform the concertos by Ponce and Villa-Lobos in the USA; and he gave the American premieres of concertos by Previn, Ohana, and Brouwer as well as the American and European premieres of Takemitsu's Folios.
In addition to concerts, Lorimer has given master classes worldwide. From 1965–1978, he lead the guitar department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. In 1980–1982, he was Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Many American performers and teachers have studied with Lorimer and/or with Lorimer’s students: to name a few, Larry Almeida (longtime assistant to Aaron Shearer), Robert Barto, David Brandon (duet partner of Christopher Parkening), Scott Cmiel, Ricardo Cobo, Sam Dorsey, Alexander Dunn, Lawrence Ferrara, Philip de Fremery (teacher of Benjamin Verdery), Alan Krantz, Scott Kritzer, Charles Mokotoff, Robert Nathanson, Paul Odette, Tom Patterson, Ron Pearl (teacher of William Kanengiser), David Perry, Charles Postlewaite, Lee Ryan (teacher of John Dearman), David Tanenbaum, Scott Tennant, and Frank Wallace, as well as players of jazz and styles other than classical including Paul Bollenback, Tony Romano, and Greg Skaff.
Lorimer has written for Guitar Review, and from 1976-1982 contributed a pithy, widely-praised monthly column to Guitar Player. He edits Michael Lorimer Editions which now numbers over forty volumes. It is comprised of the Composers Series, a special forum for new guitar music, and the Classics Series, which features Lorimer’s arrangements, including his well-known editions of Bach’s Cello Suites 1–6, the first guitar edition of all six Bach cello suites (and, in my opinion, still the best).
Segovia's quote at the beginning of this biography, now thirty years old, allows us to see, through the small end of the binocular, the glimpse of a long-lived career, one that only few could hope to achieve, but nonetheless one that has inspired many, and can nurture all.