Friday, November 09, 2012

The Program
 HSU Guitar Ensemble Concert November 9, 2012
Nicholas Lambson, Director

Tango Suite by Astor Piazzolla
Performed by: Charlie Sleep and Justin Santos

Little Suite by John Duarte
Jerry Olofsson, Greg Willis, Tyler Vaughan, Rory Urquhart

Reverie by Claude Debussy, Arranged by Laurindo Almeida
Jason Hall and Dan Fair

Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess) by  Maurice Ravel  
Charlie Sleep, Justin Santos, Jerry Olofsson, Kris Lang

Arabian Dance by Bela Bartok
Kris Lang and Nigel Gunn

Mbira by William Kanengiser
Jason Hall, Jerry Olofsson, Kris Lang and Dan Fair

Concert Notes by Nicholas Lambson, Director

Last academic year, the HSU Guitar Ensemble focused on music from Spain. In the spirit of these themed concerts, which explore the various genres that the guitar belongs to, we are now going to focus on music from the 20th century. While I definitely enjoy music from all time periods, the 20th century to me is the most interesting. Within this 100-year period, there are a multitude of styles ranging from atonality to Rock. While it is not possible to include every 20th century style in one concert, our program is certainly diverse.

Astor Piazzolla is a fascinating musician and composer from Argentina. He is universally loved by performers and audience members, and it is very common to see his works on programs by professionals and students alike. Piazzolla studied with the great Nadia Boulanger, as did many other great composers of the day including Aaron Copland. Boulanger is a somewhat rare figure in that she is very well known as a pedagogue, although she was also a fine composer. I believe that one of her greatest strengths was the ability to discover her students’ own musical voice and cultivate that. With Copland, it was American music; with Piazzolla, it was Tango music.

Piazzolla revitalized the old tango style and created Tango Nuevo which incorporated more modern harmonies, scales, and other contemporary compositional techniques. Stylistically, Piazzolla’s music is extremely passionate, seductive, and fiery. The Tango Suite was written for the famous Assad Duo who are brothers and come from a large musical family in Brazil. The Assad brothers tour extensively and are considered by many to be the preeminent guitar duo in the world right now, perhaps of all time. One of the members, Sergio, is a faculty member at my alma mater, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The suite has three movements, and the Andante is the second lyrical movement. While it is not as flashy as the other movements, it is a fine example of the kind of passion that Piazzolla is known for.

John Duarte is an interesting figure in the guitar world. While he did not have a traditional musical education, he studied Jazz guitar, studied on his own, and was proficient on other instruments as well. Playing bass, he sat in with Jazz greats Coleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt. He was also well connected with other such guitar luminaries as Ida Presti and Andres Segovia, who was the most highly esteemed guitarist of the time. Segovia was so influential that any other composers and musicians that he associated with and respected were in turn respected by the international community.

 John Duarte was a gifted composer and musician, but he was also an academic and a socialite. He has written countless articles for all of the top guitar publications, wrote liner notes for major artists, and contributed to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. He frequently hosted gatherings which brought together various other important composers and performers in the guitar world. These meetings culminated in various collaborations and allowed for a free exchange of ideas. Segovia was certainly present at of many of those meetings, and met the number of other composers that he would go on to work with, creating new repertoire for the guitar. Segovia and Duarte became friends as well as professional collaborators. Duarte composed the music for Segovia's wedding. Duarte’s style is essentially a mixture of the traditional and the decidedly modern.

The nature of his Little Suite is an excellent example of this. The dance suite was a fixture of instrumental music in the Baroque era, though the dances themselves came from individual nations in Europe during the Renaissance. By using the form of the suite, Duarte draws upon historical and somewhat familiar music, and indeed the two movements that we will be performing, the Anglaise and the Gigue, very clearly recall dances that are hundreds of years old. However, Duarte frequently plays with the listener’s expectations by incorporating very modern elements.

For example, in the Anglaise, Duarte alters what would otherwise be a very traditional musical device used in the Renaissance and Baroque. There is a short melody that is passed around the group, which normally would be repeated exactly by each member using the same notes but staggered by a measure or two, or it would be repeated up or down a perfect fourth/fifth. Instead, Duarte has each member repeat the same melody only a note apart. After all the members enter, a cluster of notes is formed which was a very modern practice and indeed. Often the effect is one of surprise, where dissonance is introduced suddenly in an otherwise traditional passage. Other times, Duarte walks us gently into a modern idiom, which blurs the distinction between the two. A final interesting note on this work – the first movement has the interior voices harmonizing in 2nds! This, along with the clusters, definitely makes the work sound very modern and very tense. This clash is resolved later in a more traditional way in the Gigue, which is another iteration of the mix of traditional and modern in this work.

Half of the pieces on this program are actually arrangements for guitar, which is a very common occurrence. The guitar has a complicated relationship with the musical community. It exists somewhere between folk/popular music and classical. I've often felt this to be its greatest strength, and occasionally also its greatest weakness.

 Case in point, the next three composers on our program did not write for the guitar, though they were some of the most influential composers of all time and in many ways the guitar would have suited them very well. I believe that good arrangements are based on the idea that the music will translate well to the new instrument or instruments. I believe this to be the case with the following works.

We will be performing works by the two main French Impressionist composers, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Claude Debussy is credited with being the father of the style. He was a great innovator who inspired, or at least influenced, every composer that followed to some extent. He tested and defied convention through his progressive use of harmony, timbre, form, and expression. He also stands as one of the great composers for the piano, and has helped define the entire genre as Chopin did before him.

 Reverie is a famous work that is a good representation of his style. The harmonies in particular are very progressive and utilize harmonic extensions, as well as Debussy’s usual synthetic scales here and there. The arranger, Laurindo Almeida, was a classical and jazz guitarist who specialized in Latin American music. In addition to touring extensively, he has done a number of arrangements and has also published a method book.

Maurice Ravel is the other main composer in this style. Debussy and Ravel were contemporaries and were similar in many ways, but they were not terribly close and were quite different. Both composers were influenced by exoticism, their national heritage, and used progressive harmonic techniques among other things, but they did so in their own ways. Ravel was particularly interested in blues and jazz, and incorporated their traits into his own language. He also invested his time into other “exotic” works evocative of distant lands, his Bolero being an extremely famous example.

  One of Ravel’s most famous works is the Pavane for a Dead Princess, which was dedicated to his patron, the Princess de Polignac, and is meant to evoke a Spanish court of the past when a Pavane might have been danced. It was originally composed for piano, though it has been arranged many times. Ravel was himself a master at orchestration and arranging, and orchestrated this work himself, along with many others. His orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is a fine example, and is so famous and convincing that many do not realize that it was originally a piano work.

 This arrangement is for guitar quartet. I find that Impressionist works are nearly impossible to pull off on solo guitar because of the thick textures required. Reverie is able to get by with two guitars, but I believe the Pavane works much better with four.

Bela Bartok holds a special place in the annals of music history. He was a master composer, ethnomusicologist, and a pedagogue. He is considered to be the first real musicologist. From an early age, he was inspired to travel to remote villages in Eastern Europe to study the music of the people there. He transcribed melodies and later did field recordings to allow for further study. This love for non-Western music is clearly represented in many of his works.

 However, Bartok was also a progressive Western composer who pushed the boundaries of harmony, melody, rhythm, and form. It is not uncommon to see both sides in his music, and that is the case with Arabian Dance. This piece actually comes from his 44 Violin Duets. The works translate extremely well to the guitar in many respects including the keys used. With this particular piece, everything remains intact except for a long, sustained bowed note in the original. Bartok evokes the Arabian aspect by using the augmented 2nd throughout the work, heightened by a semi-ornamented melodic style. Bartok also subverts the meter with melodies that do not “fit in-between the lines.”

  Mbira is a very special work in many ways. There are few works like it for any instrumentation, mostly because of the style and the prepared guitar techniques used. Mbira was composed by a member of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, William Kanengiser, which they recorded. While I was earning my undergraduate degrees, my guitar quartet decided to write and ask for a copy of the score since it had not been published. They graciously sent us the score, and performing that piece was a highlight of my studies, and I hope that the same is true for the quartet playing it on November 9th.

  An mbira is an African thumb piano, also sometimes called a kalimba. A small wooden box is held in both hands, and the thumbs press on small metal tines that are similar to piano keys to make sound. Not only does this work employ some African musical devices, it requires the performers to alter the sound of the guitar to mimic the mbira.

 A strong representation of African music is achieved through the use of syncopation, cross-rhythms, and rhythmic layering. To achieve the mbira effect, the players “prepare” the guitar strings by crimping staples around pairs of strings. Most players crimp one staple around the first two strings, placed close to the bridge, though one guitar adds another staple to the third and fourth strings. American experimental composer John Cage is famous for his prepared piano works (among other things), where various objects are placed directly on the strings of the piano to achieve new timbres. There are a number of prepared guitar works out there as well which can use alligator clips, bottle caps, and fishing line sinkers to name a few. I hope to do another piece that uses all of those techniques next semester, but until then this prepared guitar piece definitely achieves the desired effect of making the guitar sound like an mbira!

No comments: