Los Angeles Guitar Quartet

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LAGQ returned to the 92Y as part of the popular Art of the Guitar Series, with a sweeping performance that included the east coast premiere of a new composition by Pat Metheny.   The tight ensemble, John Dearman, Matthew Grief, William Kanengser, and Scott Tennant showed mastery over an extensive list of musical forms including Latin influenced, Baroque, French Renaissance Chansons, and Impressionism.  A picturesque concert, endearing, interspersed with interesting anecdotes and a few good one-liners.   As a whole, the program highlighted the versatile nature of the guitar while pushing past certain barriers in classical music.

The journey began in the plains of South America, with Llanura, written by Alfonso Montes, a Venezuelan guitarist and composer.   The spirit of the piece was rooted in the Oronico Basin’s traditional folk music, marked by deep grooves and punctuated by improvisation.  Exuberant and rich, the composition bounced between various keys and meters, foreshadowing Metheny’s own complex developments.  The combination of Latin and European foundations fused into Montes’s style of music was a particularly lush introduction to the evening.

The Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B Flat major arranged by USC scholar and guitar impresario James F. Smith followed, bringing us back to the Baroque period.  Violists would agree that the work retains its precise imitative melody, polyphonic drive, and coursing energy in the hands of LAGQ.  The complex texture of Bach’s last Brandenburg Concerto was not lost within four guitars but rather it offered a heaving intonation and force.

Allan Willcocks’ Suite Transcendent gave an impressionistic turn the program. Willcock is the alter ego of German composer and legendary guitar virtuoso, Tilman Hoppstock, a bit of classical music prankster.  Arranged in five movements, Suite Transcendent was the perfect fix after the very classical ideals of the Brandenburg Concerto.  A Breath of Wind conjured pastoral beauty offering reflection.  The magical weave of the last movement, Danza Diabolical, allowed the atmosphere in the room breath for a moment, bringing out the guitars more plaintive tones, undetermined meanderings in sepia tone.

The first set came to a close with another excursion to Latin America with two short sketches “from the great Mexican composer Aaron Copland,” William Kanengiser quipped.   Copland was profoundly affected by trips to Central and South America.  His composition El Salón Mexico, was written after an experience at a spirited dance hall in Mexico City.  Danza de Jalisco reminded me of arriving at the airport in Guadalajara and the feeling of exhilaration of driving on the narrow mountain roads into Guanajuato, a theme that would be touched upon later in the evening.

After a set of Four French Renaissance Chansons, polyphonic and secular in nature, we arrived at the heart of the proceedings, Road to the Sun by Pat Metheny, who was in attendance to witness the New York premiere.  Metheny had heard the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet at a festival in Montana and while he was driving the Going-to-the-Sun-Road in Glacier National Park he reflected upon that experience.  He leaned heavily upon that experience when the Quartet asked him to compose a piece for them.  I remembered my first experience on that famous road while living a summer in Whitefish, Montana.  There are very few peaks in the Rockies like Glacier, jagged like a saw tooth, inspiring indeed.

None of the members of LAGQ expected Metheny to compose such a long and complex work that demands a level of attention to detail throughout.  LAGQ was up to the task.  Metheny was recently quoted, “Groove is an area of interest to these guys—more than it is with other classical guitarists. They have shown that they know how to groove.”  And groove they did.  Not many can light up a sonic space like Pat Metheny.

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-JSB

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