Williams’ first professional performance was at the Wigmore Hall in London on 6 November 1958. Since then, he has been performing throughout the world and has made regular appearances on radio and TV.
He has extended the repertoire by commissioning guitar concertos from composers such as Stephen Dodgson, André Previn, Patrick Gowers, Richard Harvey and Steve Gray. Williams has recorded albums of duets with fellow guitarists Julian Bream and Paco Peña.
Williams is a visiting professor and honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Williams mostly uses Greg Smallman guitars, after using Spanish Fleta during the 1970s. He also plays a guitar by Paulino Bernabe II.
Thoughts on guitar education and teaching
Williams has expressed his frustration and concern with guitar education and teaching if it is too one-sided, e.g. focusing only on solo playing, instead of giving guitar students a better education including ensemble playing, sight-reading and a focus on phrasing and tone production and variation.
Williams notes that “students [are] preoccupied with fingerings and not notes, much less sounds”; some are able “to play […] difficult solo works from memory”, but “have a very poor sense of ensemble [playing] or timing”.
He notes that students play works from the solo repertoire that are often too difficult, so that the teachers often put more “emphasis […] on getting through the notes rather than playing the real substance of each note”.
To encourage phrasing, tone production and all-around musicianship, Williams arranges for students to play together in ensembles, choosing works from the existing classical music repertoire, such as the “easier Haydn String Quartets”.
Other musical genres
Although Williams is best known as a classical guitarist, he has explored many different musical genres. He was a member of the fusion group Sky. He is also a composer and arranger.
At the invitation of producer Martin Lewis he created a highly acclaimed classical-rock fusion duet with celebrated rock guitarist Pete Townshend of The Who on Townshend’s anthemic “Won’t Get Fooled Again” for the 1979 Amnesty International benefit show The Secret Policeman’s Ball.
The duet featured on the resulting album and the film version of the show – bringing Williams to the broader attention of the rock audience.
Williams recorded “Cavatina” by Stanley Myers. The piece originally included only the first few measures but, at Williams’ request, it was rewritten for guitar and expanded by Myers.
After this transformation it was used for a film, The Walking Stick (1970). In 1973, Cleo Laine wrote lyrics and recorded it as the song “He Was Beautiful” accompanied by Williams. The guitar version became a worldwide hit single when it was used as the theme tune to the Oscar-winning film The Deer Hunter (1978).
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