Known as Mexico’s “First Lady of the classical guitar”, Zaira Meneses, has been praised by the New York Times as “an arresting performer full of colorful touches” and has built a stellar reputation for her dark sound, powerful technique, and superb musicality. As a performer, she has graced the greatest stages of the world including New York City’s Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Boston’s Jordan Hall, Salzburg’s Wiener Saal, and the Great Hall of the Shanghai Conservatory. As a recording artist, she has released the CD Latina and is releasing three new CDs on the Centaur label. Zaira is also active in the contemporary music scene and has had works dedicated to her by the great American composer, Robert Beaser, and by award-winning composer Stephanie Ann Boyd. Besides her collaborations with prominent musicians, like her husband Eliot Fisk, the flamenco virtuoso Grisha Goryachev, flutist Viviana Guzman, among others, Zaira is active as educator at the New England Conservatory’s Preparatory Division and as an outreach coordinator for the Boston Guitar Festival.
Here she is performing a beautiful voice and guitar piece followed by a stunning 3rd movement from Leo Brouwer’s Sonata.
When I mentioned featuring Zaira on Six String Journal, we thought it might be nice to add some personal details in a short magazine style interview so here it is:
What’s the most recent news in your guitar activities? I’ve become a baroque guitar soloist. I’ve also created a new guitar performance art approach with Latin American Collages where I combine guitar, poetry, acting, and singing. Another thing I’ve been enjoying lately is improvising with my requinto and jarana “jarocha” instruments from native Veracruz Son Jarocho music. I’ve also performed in some great venues this year: Carnegie Hall, Jordan Hall in Boston, and at the Mozarteum.
When did you start playing? At age of 7 years old.
What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? Music that is rich in counterpoint, and that has interesting harmony, rhythms, and phrasing, such as Bach , Santiago de Murcia, Gaspar Sanz, and latin american music especially from Mexico and Cuba.
How much do you practice? It depends, if I have a performance coming up I don’t notice the time. On regular days I practice two to three hours.
Do you structure your practice? Yes. For concerts I prioritize memory reinforcement, sound projection, and how to connect with my audience.
Do you have a system or favorite drills you use to warm up? I start by playing the song I can’t wait to play because it will bring the best out of me. Then I practice the passages that I need to be improve.
Do you have any pre-concert rituals? I always meditate but before a concert I meditate to specific passages of the concert. I also do mind/rehearse [visualize] the music in the sauna and steam room a week before concert. Sometimes I run with the music I will be performing. I fall asleep reading the music. It really depends what performance I’m presenting but more or less I breath music as much as I can.
What is the last book that you read? Or the greatest book you’ve read this last year… Oh my gosh! I love the Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig. He’s a great writer and his books are full of imagination and detail. My favorite book is his short stories of “Forgotten Dreams”.
Any advice about practicing to younger players? Practice only if you want to practice. Practicing should come from your gut. Practicing is not a labor, it’s a need. It has to become your need otherwise its not worth doing it.
What guitar or guitars do you perform on? I use a guitar built by Stephan Connor and a Spanish baroque guitar.
Which guitarists have had the most influence on you? Oscar Ghiglia, Eliot Fisk, Joaquin Clerch.
Are there any recordings of guitar music that you think every young guitarist should be familiar with? Alirio Diaz’s Venezuelan Waltzes, Andres Segovia playing Spanish composers, any of Oscar Ghiglia’s Manuel Ponce recordings, Eliot Fisk’s playing Bach, Latin American guitar music, and his recordings of music by Robert Beaser.
Do you exercise? Do you think it helps your playing? YES absolutely! I run outdoors when it’s super cold and when it’s super hot. This helps me adjust my body to any hall circumstances.
What do you eat before a concert? If I can, my daughter Raquel’s best shake for performances: banana, almond milk, oatmeal, and chia seeds. If I’m in a hotel, I eat turkey or white meat and avocados. If I’m in hotels I also like to order Chinese steam ed vegetarian dumplings.