Dec. 12: How exceptional is Minnesota guitarist Tim Sparks? Put it this way: When Leo Kottke, Minnesota's most famous guitarist, needs a lesson, he calls Sparks. Probably better known abroad than in the States, Sparks is an extraordinary finger-style guitarist who can play the blues, jazz, classical and many kinds of ethnic music. He's currently on tour in Europe until Thanksgiving. His return to a Twin Cities stage is to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his solo acoustic guitar interpretation of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite," just re-released on CD. His performance of that work led to his winning the 1993 National Finger Style Guitar Championship. At the Guthrie, he also plans to showcase selections from other Russian composers, including Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Shostakovitch. (7:30 p.m. Dec. 12. $28. Dowling Studio, Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls. 612-377-2224 or