Blog Thoughts & Other Utterances

2010 Guitare Montreal , Boston GuitarFest, Guitar Foundation of America Conference reviews under ‘Newsletter’ tab.

As the summer settles in, I turn to upcoming projects:

I’m excited to be playing Nicholas Maw‘s magnificent song cycle Six Interiors again. I remember as a student looking at the music and thinking how impossible it seemed. But now, it is an attractive project with moving music and profound poetry. Having a student play Music of Memory this year brought me back to Nicholas Maw – and another student will be playing the Little Suite next year.

George Crumb‘s Quest as been something I’ve wanted to play for years. I chatted with David Starobin recently about Quest. I must admit that I am less enthusiastic about Crumb’s Mundus Canis, for guitar and percussion.  But having listened to David’s recording of Crumb’s Ghosts of Alhambra for baritone, guitar and percussion, my interest is re-piqued. The score of Ghosts is now available from CF Peters.

And another exciting project is Elliott Carter‘s Luimen. The work is for guitar, mandolin, harp, trumpet, trombone, and two percussionists, led by a conductor. You can just imagine the logistics of organizing this. Luimen is a ten-minute work, possibly one of Carter’s most accessible, and contains his short solo work Shard embedded within. Working on Luimen, I am reminded of another piece of Carter, but one that is rarely played: Syringa. I vividly remember the summer day in Aspen when, just arriving in town for the festival, Eliot Fisk asked if I would like to play a piece of Carter. I naively agreed – the performance was only two weeks away. Upon getting the guitar part to Syringa, I hid in a practice room and sweated it out: the performance was very successful though, garnering an excellent review in the San Francisco Chronicle. Mr. Carter was present to coach the Juilliard Ensemble, joined by soprano Jan de Gaetani with myself on the difficult concertante part. The composer sent me a score as a gift (before it was officially published) with a kind note from his wife, Helen. And working with the amazing soprano Jan de Gaetani was an experience of a lifetime. I had another unforgettable Aspen experience with her performing Peter Maxwell Davies’ chamber opera The Matrydom of St. Magnus – also with a large exposed solo part. Jan’s vanguard recording of Crumb’s Ancient Voices of Children was powerfully poetic. I fondly recall her warmly personal manner that on stage was transformed into a musical juggernaut. Elliott Carter’s music is tough and resilient – with an aggressive beauty and broad expressive palette.

I must find a reason to play my ‘new’ 1840 English guitar in public! She is dubbed ‘The Queen‘ because of the stamp on the tuner plates of a royal crown and the initials ‘VR’ (Victoria Royale or Victoria Regent). It is a Mirecourt-style instrument made in London.

Theorbo News Alert! Scott Tennant just played my arrangements of de Visée theorbo pieces for guitar at the New York Guitar Seminar at Mannes (NYC). I published these arrangements ages ago in Guitar Review (NY) and Gitarre und Laute (GL XIII/1991/Nº 6). They are effective and playable versions of de Visée and his arrangement of Francois Couperin and Lully.  Thanks, Scott!

Having just completed the editing of the video for Jacob TV’s Jesus is Coming, I wonder if I may be treading the dangerous and delightful path of video producer? El tiempo dirá. Thankfully, the composer loved the video. Another round of small edits to the scores, and my arrangements of Jesus is Coming and The Body of Your Dreams will be ready to submit to the composer. These scores portend a future project of an all-Jacob event with film + dance. You have been warned.

Just finished a telephone interview for the Austin, TX  radio show Guitar Alive, hosted by Tony Morris. We chatted about Beethoven and early nineteenth century guitar arrangements of this music.

Another instrument is on its way! I will be the proud father of a new baroque guitar copy, although it’s unclear at this stage whether it will be a French Voboam or an Italian Stradivarius. Like some new parents, I’m not sure I want to know.

And I am very excited about my Antonius Mueller double top coming in 2014. Toni is the talk of Europe right now, and there is tremendous buzz about his superb instruments. NOTE: People sometimes ask how I can play those ‘ugly’ modern guitars with lattice bracing, double tops, or other construction features. I even had someone remark recently that it would be good for me to play Pepe Romero’s 1911 Ramirez. Notwithstanding that I play numerous nineteenth century guitars and have played many ‘traditional’ guitars: Ramirez, Santos, Fleta, Hauser – and later – Hauser II, Freidrich, Rodriguez, etc., I have to roll my eyes at this well-intentioned but dated attitude. I play the ‘ugly’ modern guitars because of, not in spite of, my experience with early/earlier instruments. But the guitar world is large enough to accommodate those that want to build Hauser or Torres inspirations, and those that want to move the guitar forward. I find the association between a quiet to beautiful sound to be tedious, just as the claim of power to ugliness is shallow. The wide acceptance of 21st century designs are quickly turning those that follow the established late 19th/early 20th century model into ‘period’ luthiers. Players, repertoire and the meeting place between the two is what defines us guitarists, not a slavish adherence to tradition for traditions sake. For example, Torres was a great innovator, (he continually experimented with internal construction features) but ever since he was canonized as a saint, any deviation from his principles is considered heresy. Ever since the addition of a sixth string to baroque guitars, the history of guitar construction has been marked by experimentation, modifications, and changes. Those that wish to believe Torres or Hauser design as sacrosanct edict should consider that the guitar has, in our time, undergone sometimes remarkable changes inside, while retaining a similar outward appearance. These changes are not going to go away. Certainly the level of playing has risen dramatically over the past thirty years. The repertoire has expanded significantly through fine contemporary composers and unearthing of worthy music through historical research, yet the old guard still define guitar art through the lens of arrangements of overplayed Spanish piano music or encore favorites. The young players are not laden with Segovia baggage. I also know that the Mueller guitar combines power and beauty of sound – and therefore retains a ‘traditional’ character while bringing modernity to an instrument that sounds equally well with Elliott Carter as with Dowland. Bravo, Toni.

Now that GuitarWorks has come and gone, I refocus on new repertoire and projects. A solo program is in the making consisting of Ponce: Variations sur Folia, Willcocks: Studies, 3 Pieces – Rorem: O Serpent Heart, Carter: Shard, Zappa: Waltz, Bach: Chaconne, Zamboni: Sonata. This should keep me busy for now. Early music projects will include music on my new baroque guitar including Handel Spanish Cantata (with soprano and continuo) and perhaps a revival of the JC Bach Sonata with classical violin. At some point soon, I need to get a Godin synthesizer guitar so I can realize my Jacob TV project of Jesus is Coming, The Body of Your Dreams, The Garden of Love, and Grab It! with prerecorded tracks and solo synth guitar, dancers, and projections. A heady, but fantastic program.