Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Water on the floor and a bicycle crash 12 months later put Gerd Wuestemann’s career as a classical guitar virtuoso not just on the back burner, but totally out of the kitchen.
For about six years, anyway.
On March 21, the internationally acclaimed classical guitarist will be back in concert at the Acadiana Center for the Arts for the release and recital of his 11th album, Eco de Sombras, a collection of contemporary Latin American compositions. Wuestemann, executive director of the AcA, looks back at both unfortunate incidents not as career-ending, but rather as life-changing.
“I’ve thought long and hard about this, but in a strange way they really were the best things to happen to me,” says Wuestemann. “Like a lot of changes, I think almost all of them were just a real gift to me. So that in itself was an eye opener and a perspective.”
But first he had to let go and, says Wuestemann, “roll with it.”
Of course it wasn’t an easy thing to do for a person who has a master’s degree and doctorate in performance and music, was a child prodigy on classical guitar at age 5, had his first agent at 12, and recorded and toured worldwide for 20 years. Basically, Wuestemann has been a pro for 35 years. And then, just a month after signing with Decca Records, it all changed. “I had just signed a major record deal and things were looking really great. I was having a good time doing what I did,” Wuestemann says. “And then I slipped and fell, slipped in a little bit of water. A dumb luck fall.” Wuestemann caught himself with his left hand and shattered his wrist. “Which for a classical guitarist, that is probably the single worst thing you can injure,” he says. “It was a devastating thing.”
Six surgeons told Wuestemann he would never play again because it would take two surgeries, long incisions and three months in a cast. However, another told him he’d witnessed a new surgical technique at a symposium and suggested the guitarist check it out.
So he did. A small cut, a plate, 13 screws and no cast later, Wuestemann was playing the day after surgery. “[The surgeon] told me I should start moving right away,” Wuestemann recalls. “I mean I could barely move my fingers, but I played scales and they sounded horrendous. But I was playing. It was a miracle to me. An extraordinary experience.”
A year or so later, Wuestemann was playing concerts here and there. He was also training for a triathlon on a bicycle when he collided with a pack of stray dogs who “took me down hard,” he says.
This time, it was his right shoulder that took the brunt of the fall and was fractured. “That took another year to rehab,” he says. “So for two years, I couldn’t record. I couldn’t perform.” Wuestemann began to face no income and a nest egg in depletion.
“What are you going to do?” Wuestemann asked himself and then answered himself, too: “You’re going to have to roll with it.” Also at that time, he was sort of reconsidering his career trajectory anyway. “It’s what I did all my life,” he says. “It wasn’t just what I did, it was kind of who I was.” Wuestemann says he began looking at peripheral interests and also started two businesses.
In May 2008, the AcA was looking for an executive director. In June, Wuestemann became the executive director as Phase II of its major construction project was dragging along in its sixth year with temporary walls; money tied up and the usual construction setbacks playing out. In time, however, it all came together.
“I think it’s a fantastic addition to Lafayette,” Wuestemann says of the AcA. “It’s incredibly gratifying because you don’t get a chance to do something like this very often in your life and build something like this and contribute not just to a roomful of people at a concert, but to contribute to a whole community on a larger level.”
Being a part of the process had a profound effect on Wuestemann. “I found it very, very exciting and very fulfilling,” he says. “Maybe more so than anything else I’ve ever done, including playing concerts.”
Something clicked inside Wuestemann and he began to look at things differently.
“I discovered a whole new level of involvement and civic engagement that I didn’t understand before,” he says. “After a fairly self-indulgent life as a soloist, I think I’ve learned how to serve a community, and that’s a really meaningful thing.”
It’s something Wuestemann says he began to understand fully in the last month or so while recording the Eco de Sombras project (engineered and mastered by Joel Savoy) after hours — and long ones at that — in the James Devin Moncus Theater.
The theater was designed to be a broadcast and recording-ready room as well as a “great venue for concerts,” he says.
“We wanted to build a sonically pure room, one that sounds great for just about any type of music. One that is completely silent,” says Wuestemann. “You can drive a fire truck past here and you can’t hear anything.”
So with that in mind, Wuestemann decided to give the theater a test run by recording there. He found that the room lived up to its expectations, and he also found out something about himself.
“This project, in many ways, has sort of galvanized a lot of these transitions,” Wuestemann says. “It made me realize how much my life has shifted and I think, by and large, for the better. How much things have shifted in me, in my perspective on what’s important, what matters.”
Wuestemann says other personal transitions have occurred including the death of his two brothers to whom the CD is dedicated. “In a way, this whole project has left me with sort of letting go of things and entering a new life cycle,” he says. “And until I started working on this a month ago, none of this was clear to me.”
During his time as the executive director of the AcA, Wuestemann has become “more disconnected from my former life as a performer.”
And that’s OK, too.
“The beautiful thing is in here we do so much with arts in education, grant making, community development, any kind of visual and performing arts,” Wuestemann says. “It keeps me plugged in to all aspects of our culture.”
And while he was beginning to miss playing, Wuestemann says finishing the project (four years overdue) “makes me feel sort of more complete again, something I had to get out of my system. It doesn’t mean I’m going to be back as a performer — I won’t be — that time has come and gone,” he says, adding that he may do an occasional concert and record. “I think it’s important that I stay in touch with that part of my life.”
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