Audience Review: Antigoni Goni, GREECE

ag_med_sqSaturday, February 25th brought us another international guitarist celeb marking the fourth of just six features on this season’s Marlow Guitar Series. It’s always so nice to travel to foreign lands without having to leave one’s own back yard and Saturday’s adventure to Greece (for much of the program) transported us to a realm of ancient classical poetry updated for modern ears.

Tarrega was a traditional warm up hailing from the Iberian peninsula with Endecha y Oremus and Antigoni Goni, our artist of the evening, put her Andrea Tacchi guitar to good use in her presentation of the work. Wonderful sounding instruments like Spanish and Latin music and for good reason: the maker, a Florentine by birth, began making guitars at the young age of fifteen and sought out the most prominent Latin and Spanish luthiers to establish himself as one of the preeminent craftsman of today. It’s no wonder Tarrega’s work hums and strums so naturally on these fine acoustic instruments. But, that’s to be expected.

What was not anticipated was the application of Ms. Goni’s instrument to the more esoteric work by Dusan Bogdanovic . Carved out of a two thousand year old ancient Greek column, Bogdanovic’s Hymn to the Muse takes its theme from the Seikilos epitaph, the oldest surviving complete musical composition known to date. The Epitaph is inscribed: “I am a portrait in stone. I was put here by Seikilos, where I remain forever, the symbol of timeless remembrance.” And, the poetic text with music is inscribed: “While you live, shine. Have no grief at all. Life exists only for a short while and time demands an end.” This original melody is re-imagined by Bodganovic in a blend of pythagorian and modern dissonant tonality, the setting somewhat haunting yet accessible. It’s about loss and living beyond to one’s own end. Fitting advice from the ancients, as the Greeks so well must have lived it. This work, having been dedicated to Ms. Goni, was a deeply personal interpretation as was her presentation of Mikis Theodorakis’ trio of pieces alternately using the guitar as both a percussion and string instrument. Just goes to show how interesting listening outside the box can be, and Ms. Goni demonstrated that for us on Saturday.

See you next time, when Margarita Escarpa joins Marlow again for what is sure to be a well attended evening. Don’t delay. Buy your tickets today! www.marlowguitar.org

Deborah Drayer

Audience Review: Jorge Caballero, Peru

jorgecaballero_sq_med_rgbJorge Caballero – January 28, 2017

When one is in the presence of greatness, one should be aware of it. I was certainly so on Saturday evening in the Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center in Silver Spring. From the moment Jorge Caballero sat down and composed himself to present an exquisite rendering of four pieces from the Iberia Suite by Albeniz, my understanding of the capacity of the acoustic guitar was forever altered. With an impassioned performance, Mr. Caballero perceptively communicated the poetic Evocation with its echoes of Spanish fandango and jota song forms. He moved with such ease into El Puerto, a fine Andalusian could have cantered in natural gait to its rhythms. And, El Albaicin and Malaga further bore us through the southern Spanish coast sharing its culture and images. Only absent was the fine wine and food to accompany these masterful pieces.

From J.S. Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, BWV 903, the take away impression was simply stunning, stunning, stunning. To reduce a score written for an instrument with two manuals and five octaves each and impose it onto an instrument with just six strings is nothing less than insane. What’s even more insane is that it actually works, at least in the hands of Mr. Caballero whose command of his instrument is, I’m sure, the envy of many a performer eking out a career in this demanding profession. The rapid fire execution of scales and counterpoint might cause any keyboardist to permanently close the lid on their instrument; but, to conquer its fugal fingering on six strings, well, the only comparison is that both the harpsichord and acoustic guitar are plucked.

Intermission gave listeners time to recover from part one of the program, but nothing could have prepared us for part two. As one of only two guitarists in the world to have mastered Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on six strings, Mr. Caballero made Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue sound like Lesson Book I instruction. All that can be said is the man has skills — many, many gifts and even more skills to back up his inborn, natural ability. I wasn’t expecting to attend a guitar concert and hear all virtuoso compositions originally composed for the keyboard. Guitarists are renowned for their ability to interpret music written for other instruments, but this program presented us with some of the most difficult keyboard music one could tackle and yet there we were transfixed by not only the tremendous aptitude of this performer but by the amazing sound and dynamic of his playing. You would be amazed too, if you were to plug into the Marlow Series. Its reputation attracts the best guitarists this temporal world offers.   What a gift to this community, unlike any other. And, Jorge Caballero confirmed for us Saturday just how fortunate we are to be on the receiving end of greatness.

Looking forward to hearing Antigoni Goni from Greece on February 25th at Westmoreland Congregational Church in Bethesda.

Deborah Drayer

Audience Review: Jason Vieaux, USA

Jason Vieaux, October 22nd, 2016

It could not have been a better start to Marlow’s 23rd season. Jason Vieaux, co-founder of the Curtis Institute of Music’s Guitar Department in Philadelphia, set a strong precedent for artists who will follow in the 2016-2017 line up. But many performers Marlow has featured year after year have left such a lasting impression on Washington’s music scene.

Last Saturday, however, was a great joy to the collective ear. It’s hard to know where to start, but I’m going to start with what came last, the encore. If one had the ability to wait for it, and nearly all in attendance did, you couldn’t help but be memorably touched by Mr. Vieaux’s original interpretation of the classic song released in 1967, “It’s a Wonderful World.”

After the well known Tarrega and Albeniz works at the start of the evening, the Barrios and Brower near the end of the program, and the smashing Ellington “In a Sentimental Mood” as the last bit, one would think the program couldn’t be topped. Think again – what a delicious dessert we were served in that darling encore first recorded by Louis Armstrong during one of our country’s more turbulent political and cultural times. Maybe it could serve as a calming balm during our current political discord.

What can one say, though, about a performer whose classical repertoire includes jazz and popular greats delivered just as convincingly and assuredly as Segovia’s “Estudio Sin Luz”?   Why should we be surprised about Jason’s versatility? But, we were, and very pleasantly so – so much so, that not one of his CD’s was left on the table by evening’s end. That’s a statement. Let’s hope he returns soon. The booking should commence now!

P.S. Don’t miss Rene Izquierdo of Cuba on November 19th. See you there!

– Deborah Dreyer

Tickets for Rene’s performance available: www.marlowguitar.org

Audience Review: Berta Rojas, Classical Guitarist from Paraguay

Tim Healy suggested I “review” Berta Rojas’s concert last Saturday night, March 21st, at the Westmoreland Congressional Church of Christ. Following in the footsteps of such august critics as Olin Downs and Bosley Crowther of the New York Times and Virgil Thomson of the Herald-Tribune, I naturally approached this assignment with trepidation. But what was almost my real undoing was following in the footsteps of my 11-year-old grandson, Brendan, who wrote a very favorable review of the concert himself earlier this week!

Berta’s recital was a potpourri of Hispanic composers spanning two continents and two centuries. The two Manuels, Ponce and de Falla were both born in the late 19th Century, within a few years of each other and died within a few years of each other in the mid-20th Century.

Her program opened with the ‘Suite in A Minor’ by Ponce, which mirrored the format of J. S. Bach’s French and English Suites, originally written for harpsichord but played on the piano today. Just like Bach, Ponce began his suite with a ‘Preludio’, followed by an ‘Allemande’, ‘Sarabande’, ‘Gavotte’, and ‘Gigue’. Bach himself used these forms, as did his contemporary, French composer François Couperin. But similarities ended there. Ponce’s ‘Suite’ was thoroughly modern with a dash of Mexican flavor, but few trills and no mordents. Berta, however, performed them with the crisp, strict beat demanded of this 18th Century style, allowing for little rubato.

The featured piece before intermission was ‘Fiesta Americana’ by American composer Vincent Lindsey Clark, dedicated to and admirably played by Ms. Rojas. It was an interesting piece in a contemporary vein, exploring various guitar techniques. Included in the suite was ‘Flight of the Butterfly’, Clark’s answer to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble-Bee! Hopefully this will also have a butterfly effect on Clark’s music!

Manuel de Falla’s music is mainly known by such orchestral compositions from his ballets, ‘El Amor Brujo’ (roughly translated ‘The Love of the Magician’) and ‘El Sombrero de Tres Picos’ (‘The Tree-Cornered Hat’). His famous ‘Ritual Fire Dance’ was made even more famous by his piano arrangement dedicated to and performed by Artur Rubinstein, who seldom left the stage without playing it as an encore. ¡In fact, Rubinstein wasn’t allowed to leave the stage once in Madrid, until he played it as an encore six, yes, six times!

Here, Falla was represented in ‘Seven Popular Spanish Songs’ performed by Rebecca Lister and accompanied by Berta. I was impressed not only by Rebecca’s singing ability but also her impeccable diction—in song and speech. Berta’s accompaniment was just that—accompaniment. She played with warmth in the shadows while the spotlight was on Rebecca.

Berta closed her printed program with ‘Danza Paraguaya’, one of whose themes danced through my head for days! This was where sensitivity transcended technique. Having been brought up on this music, it’s obviously in her blood.

– Bob Scharf