Andres Segovia walked slowly across the vast, empty stage of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall last night--the careful walk of a very old man. But when he sat down with his guitar, the years melted away. His fingers showed none of the stiffness visible in his walk. They rippled out arpeggios, or launched a melody, glittering through a cloud of chords, all the way to the back of the enormous hall with every note beautifully formed, perfectly audible. It was, even with a large audience, a private ceremony for two lovers.

A special kind of silence reigns while Segovia is playing. It betokens more than the respect due a great artist; it is the silence of people who know that they are in the presence of history. Segovia is the last of the giants who revolutionized music earlier in this century by bringing new solo instruments into the spotlight. Like Landowska with the harpsichord and Casals with the cello, he stands at the beginning of a tradition. And he has lived long enough to see it flower.

There must be at least a dozen virtuosos today who could put him down in a mano-a-mano competition for speed and accuracy--brilliant young men who can dazzle a crowd with harmonics, glissandos, flamenco-style rasgueados and percussion effects. But they are all, artistically, his children and his genius launched their journey to strange, new worlds of music.

Segovia seems a bit old-fashioned now. His program last night was the same kind he has been playing for more than half a century: original pieces by the 19th-century Spaniards, Sor and Tarrega; transcriptions from Bach and Scarlatti; gently modern music by Tansman, Villa-Lobos and Torroba. He played it all with courtly grace, clarity and precision--above all, with a musicianship that transcends questions of technique. A capacity crowd called him back for encore after encore, rightly unwilling to leave this special world for the sleet and traffic jams outside.