Virtuoso guitarist Tim Sparks finally releases “The Nutcracker Suite” in the United States


What I know about classical music you can find on the head of a pin and have room left over. I do, however, know damned good guitar playing when I hear it, and virtuoso soloist Tim Sparks plays some damned good guitar. For that matter, you can ask iconic legend Leo Kottke, who attests, “I’m Tim Sparks’s biggest fan. His stuff is very difficult to play but it doesn’t sound difficult. I think that’s real musicianship. He really is one of the best guitar players I know.”

Sparks has, in fact, been compared to Kottke as well the immortal likes of Andres Segovia and Doc Watson. Sparks is usually running around the globe, gigging in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East; he touched down in the Twin Cities to do a holiday concert at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio on December 12, marking the 20th anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite (ToneWood), available for the first time as a domestic release—before this, the recording was offered only as a 1993 import.

The CD is two compositions: “The Nutcracker Suite” and “Balkan Dreams Suite.” Highly recommended from “Balkan Dreams Suite” is the intriguing original movement (he also does all the arranging on the album) “The Blues on Bartok Street.” Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite by Tim Sparks is fine listening and, who knows, might convince some of your snootier friends that you’ve got culture. Just after Thanksgiving, Sparks gave a few comments on his craft by e-mail.

While you’ve established an international reputation in your own right, is it not one hell of a tribute that Leo Kottke has your back?

Yes, Leo has been very generous in his support. It has meant a lot to me.

What inspired “The Blues on Bartok Street”?

My wife and I went to Budapest in 1987. It was at the end of the Soviet Era. Budapest was both beautiful and spooky. The local legend is that the statues climb down off the buildings and walk the streets in the wee hours. This song was inspired by Budapest and an encounter I had there with a gargoyle one misty night.

What made you pick up guitar?

I liked music. I also had epilepsy and was somewhat brain-damaged, so I couldn’t do sports. 

You recorded this album quite some time ago. Why re-release it?

This was my first solo guitar recording and was released in Europe in 1993 on Acoustic Music Records. It’s only been available in America as an expensive import. I was listening to it at a holiday party last year and decided I would put it put on my Tonewood label.

What is the most significant difference in your artistry since you recorded this and what difference do you expect to see in your next recording? Which will be when?

I think this is one of my favorite recordings. My subsequent work built on these ideas with more improvisation and jazz, especially the projects I did for Tzadik Records. I’m working on a collection of solo guitar arrangements of early 20th century composers Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich.