Friday, April 08, 2011

Artist Commentary

This will be a contemporary guitar concert. The oldest work by far was written roughly 50 years ago, with everything else falling well within the last 30 years. There will be music from Venezuela, Japan, and the rest from American composers. Minimalism will be a main feature of the night, as our Minimalism on Guitar concert event is on Monday, April 25th at 8. Minimalism is probably the most accessible 20th century compositional style. There are influences from African music and electronic music. The music is very tonal and familiar to audiences, partly because so much modern pop music is so similar; there are familiar chords and scales, with a lot of repetition.

The first Minimalist work is by Philip Glass, entitled "Mishima." Glass originally composed music for the Japanese film of the same name, and later arranged it for string quartet. I fell in love with this piece, and immediately heard the guitar in this work. There are a lot of repeated notes and arpeggios, which are both things that guitarists do very often. I sat down and arranged the string quartet for guitar quartet, and it was a relatively simple transfer. For many sections, I definitely prefer the guitar arrangement!

The next work will be "Whirler of the Dance" by Carlos Rafael Rivera. Rivera was born in 1970, making him a fairly young composer. He is Spanish, but has studied in America. His writing for the guitar shows an intimate understanding of the instrument, clearly drawing on its resources. This work is also quite modern, but in a different way. It is mostly tonal with some modal and chromatic inflections. It also is constantly changing meters, and uses a lot of melodic cells (similar to Minimalism). He also uses some percussive effects. The piece was commissioned by the Guitar Foundation of America for its annual International Solo Competition, which is by far the largest American competition, and draws eminent performers from all over the world. This work was the competition set piece: the required piece for all performers to play to test their abilities.

After intermission, I will play the Suite Venozolano by Antonio Lauro. This work is very much in line with Venezuelan music, except that it uses some very interesting jazz harmonies. This work was written in the 1960s, but it was progressive for that style and time, which is why it is still so relevant today. This is another competition piece, with the infamous "Danza Negra" being the challenge. It features heavy use of hemiola, the rhythmic interplay of three groups of two and two groups of three.

Then I will play a short one movement work, "Equinox" by Toru Takemitsu. His Japanese influences are shown here: the title is based on nature and there are many moment of silence in between the notes. Takemitsu also uses a lot of color and texture in his works, and this is all over "Equinox." He has indications in the score to play different volumes, articulations, colors, and tempo changes. Being a non-guitarist composer, his piece is very unique in the repertoire but he definitely has mastered the variety of sounds that the guitar can make, even if what he is asking for is quite hard!

Finally, I will end with Steve Reich's "Electric Counterpoint." This is for ensemble and soloist, or pre-recorded tape and soloist. The piece was originally written for famous Jazz electric guitarist, Pat Metheny, who recorded it on "Different Trains." However, many classical guitarists perform the work. My former teacher at the San Francisco Conservatory while I was earning my Masters Degree, David Tanenbaum, has done his own recording of the work with classical guitar on his album "Acoustic Counterpoint." I am thrilled to be using his pre-recorded tape part to play against! The tape features 12 other guitars, plus two electric basses, while I have the solo. It's a great piece, and I know people will really love it!

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