London-based classical guitarist John Williams–not to be confused with the movie composer–established his credentials more than 40 years ago with a series of debut recitals in Europe’s music capitals. In his early teens he was already a prodigious talent, mentored by Andres Segovia; he quickly overcame his early limitations–a narrow repertoire and a rather straitlaced approach to interpretation–by embarking on an extraordinarily busy recital and recording schedule. CBS Masterworks (now Sony Classical) signed him in the early 1960s, and since then he’s averaged a record or two every year. Even a cursory glance at his discography–which includes titles such as The Baroque Album, Iberia, and John Williams Plays the Movies–provides clear evidence of his ever expanding range. Williams has also made it a point to work with a wide variety of collaborators throughout his career: he’s recorded tasteful fusion with jazz musicians, toured with fellow classical guitarist Julian Bream, and partnered with Chilean folk group Inti-Illimani; in the late 70s he formed the pop-inflected group Sky, in which he sometimes played the electric guitar. Lately, Williams has looked to the myriad musical traditions of Africa for inspiration. His marvelous new CD, The Magic Box (Sony Classical), includes new compositions and arrangements–by Williams himself as well as by Africans such as Vasco Martins, Jean Bosco Mwenda, and the late Francis Bebey–that adapt Zimbabwean dances, Malian folk songs, Madagascan rhythms, and other idioms and augment Williams’s guitar with everything from balafon to beer bottle to bass clarinet. Selections from this album will take up almost half of Williams’s solo recital Wednesday at Symphony Center, alongside works by Domenico Scarlatti, Isaac Albeniz, Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, and Italian Carlo Domeniconi. For several concerts later in the week, he’ll join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as the soloist in Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and Takemitsu’s To the Edge of Dream. Daniel Barenboim conducts. Wednesday, May 29, 8 PM (recital), Thursday through Saturday, May 30 through June 1, 8 PM, and Tuesday, June 4, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/David Montgomery.