21st century pieces – musical or what?

The fact that I do not really know what to call this article speaks to my confusion regarding 21st music for the classical guitar. Some call the subject of my wondering modern, others contemporary, and yet others 21st century. The only way I can explain myself is to give some examples.

Manuel Ponce wrote Sonata III, Carlos Seixas composed Sonata No 23, and Antonio Lauro gave us Vals Venezolano No 3, and I can appreciate the musicality in all three. They are not what I would choose to listen to often and I do not have the technical skills to play them, but I can relate to them at some levels. However, Joao Luiz’s Xie and Toru Takemitzu’s Equinox just confuse, Jar, and leave me feeling as though I have endured rather than enjoyed.

Here is an example of the kind of 21st classical guitar music that I just don’t ‘get’ – have a listen:

Steven H. Somers plays his own composition, ‘21st Century Suite’.

Now I don’t know much about Steven Somers and his music might not properly represent the genre, so I have selected an example from the work of the great Leo Brouwer. Here is his Sonata V – Ars Combinatoria I – vivace played by Andrey Lebedev

My confusion deepens when I compare this to his Un Dia de Noviembre, which I like a lot and am currently learning to play.

Here it is played by Tatyana Ryzhkova.

Leo Brouwer composed prolifically and has a huge international reputation, so what’s with his Sonata V, and other works like Sonata Fandangos y Boleros and Sonata del Pescador? My confusion deepens.

From what I can tell, the pieces I have problems with are technically challenging and encompass a range of ornamentations, stretches, speed bursts and so on, but they seem disjointed, lacking in any discernible rhythm, over-filled with discords, and generally unpleasing to the ear. What am I missing? Ok, so I am a 70-year-old intermediate level guitarist without any formal music school education, but isn’t music supposed to be pleasing to the ear, evocative, and … well perhaps here is my problem, my definition of ‘music’.

As a younger man, I had the same sort of problem with much modern art. Critics raved about what appeared to me to be a slapdash mess of forms and colours, but my impression was that a 6-year-old child could have done as well. I can’t say the same for the kind of classical guitar music that befuddles me because I can see that they would be extremely hard to play. I can understand, therefore, why some performers would use such pieces to display their skills, but do they enjoy playing them, and do people enjoy listening to them?

I am hoping that someone will explain to me the value of such music because even in my old age I am keen to learn. I have searched the internet for some credible critique but have so far found nothing that makes sense to me. Perhaps I am missing something that will change the way I process music or perhaps much 21st Century classical guitar music is just a big con… like much that passes for art, wisdom, and value these days.

 

Pithy advice for classical guitar performers

 

What follows is an extract from an article by Renato Bellucci on his mangore.com website. Renato is both an accomplished classical guitarist and a luthier. Over the years, he has come in for some severe criticism regarding the quality and value of his guitars, but there is no doubt that he has a deep understanding of both the instrument and performing on it.

Here is his advice concerning performing before an audience.

‘Advice I have and a lot has been written about the practical things we can do in order to give a good recital. These are some of the things I learned and apply to me.

DO NOT PLAY A PIECE OF MUSIC IN PUBLIC UNTIL YOU LIKE IT IN PRIVATE. Do not think for a second that the mistake/s we make while practising won’t appear on stage. They will FOR SURE.

PLAY MUSIC YOU REALLY LIKE and avoid competitions unless this point and the previous one are ok and make sure you go there to win and not to learn. Everyone knows who the winner is after the first round is over… the rest is meeting the scheduled dates. Learning should be left for practice time, not for competitions and as Berlioz once said: “Competitions are for horses, not for musicians”.

REMEMBER THAT ONLY 0.5% of the public will notice a mistake unless you put a TAG on it (like saying I am sorry).

99.9% of the people attending are there to cheer you up, make sure you are one of them.

If a PRO is there, you are lucky.

START THE PROGRAM WITH THE PIECE OR PIECES YOU ARE TOTALLY FAMILIAR WITH. In other words, start-off with the right foot, unless you are in for the thrill of your life.

IF FOR ANY REASON YOU DECIDE THE CONDITIONS ARE NOT RIGHT FOR A GIVEN PIECE, SKIP THE PIECE. Trust your feelings, nobody gets a receipt on the way in or out of a concert hall.

CHANGE THE STRINGS AT LEAST 3 DAYS BEFORE A CONCERT.

IT’S PERFECTLY OK TO HAVE YOUR SCORES ON STAGE.

YOU ARE NOT THERE TO IMPRESS ANYBODY.

REST ON THE DAY OF THE CONCERT, even better, have a great time, laugh a lot!

ENJOY THE MOMENT and make your own personal list.

LOOK FORWARD TO A BAD REVIEW, It’s better than no review at all and you were at least worth the ink’.

Excellent article by Marcelo Kayath

I came across this article in the March 11th GSI Blog and I think it is worth sharing on Classical Guitar SA. The article is titled GUITAR – A SMALL ORCHESTRA OR A GRAND PIANO? and in it, Marcelo traces the development of classical guitar music from the end of the 18th century up to the present time. Click HERE for the article

And here is an example of Marcelo performing pieces from the Suite in F Major SW 33 by Sylvius Leopold Weiss where he demonstrates a number of the points he makes in his article.

 

Knowing your classical guitar

 

My apologies to experienced players, but I wrote this article for those just starting out as players or interested non-players.

In this article, I deal briefly with a range of aspects of guitar construction, playability, intonation, humidity, strings and so on. I have only built one classical guitar, but I am a passionate enthusiast and I have researched and experimented quite a bit.

HERE is the article.

Millennial classical guitarists

 

In this, the 3rd and final post in the series, I am featuring 10 incredible players 35 years old or younger I have ordered them from youngest to oldest to maximise the impact. What wonderful talent in such young people!

 

Linda Bernert (10) plays Tango en skaï by Roland Dyens

 

Nina Bernert (12 now 14) plays Phantasia D major by David Kellner

 

Leonora Spangenberger (13 now 15 years old) plays 12 Etudes by Heitor Villa Lobos: Etude No 1

 

Julia Lange (19) plays Asturias by Isaac Albeniz

 

Stephanie Jones (24 years old) plays Recuerdos de la Alhambra by F. Tárrega

 

Anna Likhacheva (25 years old)  plays Russian folk song “Ivushka”

 

Gabriel Bianco (29 years old) plays Variations on Venice Carnival

 

Su Meng (30 years old) plays Bach Prelude, Allegro – Presto

 

Kyuhee Park (33 years old)  plays El Ultimo Tremelo by Augustin Barrios Mangore

 

Milos Karadaglic (35 years old)  plays’Oriental’ by Enrique Granados

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10 top Generation-X classical guitarists

As promised, here is a list of 10 top Generation-X classical guitarists aged between 40 and 55.

I have avoided using the word ‘best’ when referring to this list because of how different folk understand this ascription. Some comments to previous posts are; “there is no ‘best’, just opinions”, and “the best players are those who embrace the ‘new’ compositions”, and “No way! Eliot Fisk is the best because of his innovation and energy”. I guess we could have a shot at determining who the best players are by adopting a comprehensive set of criteria and an impartial assessment methodology, but what’s the point? Certainly, my reason for compiling these lists is to provide reference points, learning opportunities, and listening pleasure.

In the 3rd and final post in this series, I intend to feature another 10 fabulous players 35 years old and under.

Xuefei Yang (41 years old)

http://www.xuefeiyang.com

Manhã de Carnaval by Luiz Bonfá

 

Graham Anthony Devine (47 years old)

www.grahamanthonydevine.com/

Gnossienne No. 1 by Erik Satie

 

Galina Vale (38 years old)

www.galinavale.com/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gj4jve_D4n0

Embedding disabled on youtube – click on above link to access the video.

Russian gypsy song “Otchi chornie”

 

Gorge Caballero (41 years old)

https://www.jorgecaballeroguitar.com/

Capriccio Espagnol by Rimsky Korsakov

 

Paul Galbraith (54 years old)

www.paul-galbraith.com/

Bajo La Palmera by Albeniz

 

Margarita Escarpa (53 years old)

http://www.volterraguitar.org/bio-margarita-escarpa.html

F. TÁRREGA (1852-1909): “Endecha”, “Oremus”, “Capricho Árabe”

 

Paulo Martelli (52 years old)

https://www.facebook.com/martelliguitar/

Remembrance by Sergio Assad

 

Matthew McAllister (? Years old)

www.matthewmcallister.com/

Scottish Lute Pieces

 

Amanda Cook (? Years old)

www.amandacook.co.uk/wordpress/

Zalopojka from Balkan Miniatures by Bogdanović

 

Craig Ogden (? Years old)

www.craigogden.com/

Prelude to Lute Suite no.4 BWV.1006a by Bach

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‘Best’ living classical guitarist

My last post featured John Williams, and although many commented favourably, there were one or two critical of John’s virtuosity. When I searched the threads in the Delcamp forum,  I soon realised that there are as many opinions on the ‘best’ living classical guitarist as there are on what constitutes ‘best’.

The criteria for judging ‘best’ appear to fall into four categories: musicality, technique, tone production, and emotional impact. However, what interested me more was the sheer number of CG players listed among the top three picks… 38 in total!

So, I have compiled a list of just the top 10 candidates. I have done this as a basis for further research, learning, and listening pleasure. I have arranged the list based on the number of different people identifying them as part of the top three living players. Of course, the list is not meant as any sort of definitive ranking, but rather as an inspiration for run-of-the-mill classical guitarists like me. Along with each name are links to their websites and a video of them playing.

Of the 10 maestros listed, seven are over 60 years of age, and so the fear for many is that the era of classical guitar greats is passing. Not so! In my next post, I intend to highlight 10 great players between 40 and 55 years old. Then in a 3rd post I intend to feature another 10 fabulous players 35 years old and under. The future of the classical guitar looks bright to me!

1.  Julian Bream (84 years old)

http://www.julianbreamguitar.com/

Grand Solo by Fernando Sor

2.  David Russell (64 years old)

http://www.davidrussellguitar.com/

Choro No 1 by Villa-Lobos

3.  John Williams (76 years old)

http://www.johnwilliamsguitarnotes.com/

Sevilla by Albeniz

4.  Ana Vidovic (37 years old)

http://www.anavidovic.com/

La Catedral by Barrios Mangore

5.  Marcin Dylla (41 years old)

http://www.marcindylla.com/

la Alborada by Francisco Tárrega

6.  Jason Vieaux (44 years old)

https://www.jasonvieaux.com/

Bach: Lute Suite No. 3 in E minor, BWV 996

7.  Manuel Barrueco (65 years old)

http://www.barrueco.com/

Variations on a Theme of Mozart

8. Pepe Romero (74 years old)

https://peperomero.com/

Pepe Romero plays Zapateado & Fantasia from ‘Suite Andalucia’ by Celedonio Romero

9. Christopher Parkening (70 years old)

http://parkening.com/

Christopher Parkening plays Koyunbaba at Harvest Crusade

10. Sharon Isbin (61 years old)

http://www.sharonisbin.com/

Sharon Isbin plays Waltz by Agustin Barrios Mangore

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John Williams – King of Classical Guitarists


I am currently reading a biography of this great classical guitarist called, ‘Strings Attached: The Life and Music of John Williams’ by William Starling and published in 2013. So far I am finding it dry reading, so I decided to see what was available on the internet.

The most comprehensive videoed interview with this giant of the classical guitar world that I could find is the four-part production by GuitarCoop:
Part 1 – The Early Years
Part 2 – The Musical Experience
Part 3 – The Composers
Part 4 – Final

However, the overview of his various collaborations (particularly with Julian Bream) that I found the most enjoyable was the 2016 John Williams (Classical Guitar) at the BBC. This 58-minute production contains several full pieces played by the maestro.

There is also a  transcript of an interesting  interview by Classical Guitar Magazine, summer 2016 edition, titled ‘Amazing Legacy: John Williams Reflects on Five Decades of Recordings’.

John Williams is a champion of Greg Smallman guitars which, when he first tried one out were unknown but now sell new for around $36,000. Classical Guitar Review interviewed John in 2010 and in Part Three of their publication he gave the reasons for his switch from Fleta to Smallman guitars.

Serval years after first meeting Greg Smallman, John visited him in his workshop deep in the Australian wilds and here is a short video clip of that visit.

Free classical guitar music scores

Where do I go on the www to find free classical guitar scores? I have poked around quite a lot and have found the following sites to be the best.

www.classclef.com

This site lists over 4,600 pieces in .pdf format. There is no real difficulty grading system but it does list 1,173 pieces as ‘easy’. Some of the pieces have a difficulty indicator when you click on the actual selection; for instance, Tarrega’s Lagrima is marked ‘Grade 4 Late Intermediate’.

www.thisisclassicalguitar.com

Bradford Werner has provided a nice, but by no means comprehensive, selection of graded pieces. The added value of this site is that he provides video lessons for most of the pieces listed.

www.imslp.org

The Petrucci Music Library contains a huge database of public domain music for all instruments. It is not easy to browse this collection, but the search facilities are adequate if you are looking for a composer or a particular piece. For instance, a search for ‘Tarrega’ yields 51 pieces and a search for ‘Largrima’ yields no less than 7 available transcriptions. Unfortunately, there are no indications of playing difficulty. However, you could use www.guitarburst.com in conjunction with this site for most free guitar scores.

www.8notes.com

This site has over 600 scores, with basic difficulty level indicators, and an online synthesised audio/visual playback facility. However, it only allows a few views/downloads per every 24 hours unless you take out a paid subscription to the site.

www.classical-guitar-school.com

A reasonably good range of free music scores as well as methods and collections, but this is the site of the Guitar School of Iceland and so the commercial sections contain a lot more material that you will have to pay for.

www.delcamp.net

This site is more than just a forum and contains sections of graded classical guitar music. The drawback is that you have to become an active member of the forum in order to access most of these collections. In addition, the choice of music tends more towards the Baroque than anything else.

I hope this is useful to you – have fun and enjoy learning new stuff.

Beautiful Guitars

I love the look of well made classical guitars. Here are three beautiful guitars worth show-casing.

‘Black Diamond’  by Rafał Turkowiak

Design features include: •   Acoustic Tubes – special ‘holes’ placed in the neck that increase resonance and reduce neck mass.         •     WAVE type resonator – increases vibration through the soundboard; reduced bridge mass.

 Specs:

  • Top – Western Red Cedar
  • Back and Sides – Black and White Ebony
  • Arched back
  • Neck – Flame Maple
  • Fretboard – Ebony
  • Head – Crafted with natural black diamonds and authentic Mother of Pearl
  • Bridge – Black and White Ebony with Mother of Pearl
  • Armrest – Bevelled
  • Tuners – Ebony, Aluminium, White Mother of Pearl with an 18:1 ratio
  • Fret markers – Mother of Pearl
  • Varnish – French polish

 

 ‘No. 22’ by Zebulon Turrentine

Specs:

  • Top – Western Red Cedar
  • Back and Sides – African Mahogany
  • Fretboard – West African Ebony
  • Bridge – African Padauk
  • Bracing – Asymmetric lattice
  • French polish with shellac
  • Scale length – 650mm
  • Jumbo Gold EVO frets
  • Der Jung tuners

Grand Concert by Robert & Orville Milburn

Materials: Rare African blackwood sides and back, close straight grain European spruce soundboard with extensive cross grain silk, rare snakewood bindings, African Blackwood head veneers, black/white/black hairline purling, mammoth ivory saddle and bridge tie block decoration, perfectly executed side grain mosaic rosette, Rodgers tuning machine heads, impeccable French polish of finish.