Monday, April 25, 2011

Nicholas Lambson: Concert Notes

This is a special event for the Guitar Program at HSU. In my 5 years here, we have not held a special concert like this of this magnitude. This concert will benefit the Guitar Program, as all of the ticket sales will go into an account to be used to bring up guest artists. We intend to do a themed guitar concert every year in the Spring from now on, and I have a million ideas for the future. The concert will be primarily performed by students, though I will perform the last work of the program.

As is typical of many guitarists, I had my start playing electric guitar. I was playing a variety of music, focusing on rock and blues. I eventually became infatuated with classical guitar, partly due to the technical challenge of playing more than one line of music at a time (melody, bass, and chords at once), but also because of its many styles. A style that particularly appealed to me early on was Minimalism.

Minimalism is a 20th century musical style that was a response to atonality and complexity that was so prevalent. As the name suggests, the elements of the style are minimal; there are familiar and very tonal harmonies and melodies, the phrases are balanced and predictable, the forms are simple or free, and often short ideas are repeated while very small changes add to or develop the music. There is also an influence of West African music, and electronic music on this genre. The rhythms often interlock and are syncopated. Often, each idea is designed to contribute to the entire texture rather than stand alone.

Since Minimalism had familiar harmonies, melodies, a repetitive nature, and syncopations, it was an easy transition from rock and electronic music as a listener and amateur musician. And so it is for many listeners. Popular music shares so many of these elements with Minimalism that is an extremely accessible style.

The program will feature all Minimalist works on the guitar. Some of the works are adaptations from other instrumentations, some are not, and some are open-ended. We begin the program with "Opening" by Philip Glass which was originally for solo piano. However, we have arranged the work for guitar duet. It is a relatively short work that highlights many of the elements to be heard over the course of the evening. You will hear traditional harmonies, but with cross rhythms of 2 against 3. This is a perfect piece to start us off with.

Then the HSU Guitar Ensemble will be performing Terry Riley's "In C," which is for unspecified instrumentation. I met with Terry Riley several years ago during a rehearsal of this landmark work and his son and I attended the same Conservatory, studying with the same teacher, David Tanenbaum. This work is essentially a group improvisation, except that the notes are fixed. There are many "cells (repeated melodic ideas)" that can be repeated a number of times. However, each performer chooses when to play each cell, and how to play it. For example, one might play the rhythms in diminution or augmentation, play the cells transposed up or down in octaves, or interlock with another player on the same cell. The idea is that the group must listen to one another to create a full musical experience which differs with every performance.

Then on to "Nagoya Guitars" by Steve Reich. This piece was originally written for two marimbas, though it has been performed on guitar numerous times. My former teacher David Tanenbaum recorded the guitar version many years ago on one of his albums calling it "Nagoya Guitars," and that opened the door for the rest of us. The work has several repeating cells that interlock between the two players, which are highly syncopated. The work transfers well to the guitar overall, and it is definitely a challenging work to play, though it is extremely rewarding as well.

The second half will begin with my arrangement of Philip Glass's "Mishima," his third string quartet.  One of my graduating seniors will be playing the first guitar part. They have had multiple performances including the honors recital at HSU, and they have even moved people to tears.

Finally, we end with Electric Counterpoint [by Steve Reich.] I will be playing the solo part with the other guitars on tape, as recorded by David Tanenbaum."

For additional information on "Mishima" and "Electric Counterpoint," see notes for Nicholas Lambson's April 8 concert.

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