Monday, July 25, 2022

Summermusic's Conclusion: Two Guitars on a Summer Night (Indoors)

Well, at least two guitarists... (Who knows how many guitars will be involved in this program?)

The last of this summer's programs with Market Square Concerts' Summermusic series takes place Tuesday night at 7:30 at St. Michael Lutheran Church on the 1st block of State Street in downtown Harrisburg, right in front of the Capitol. The varied program will take you through the Baroque to the Present Day, all the way from Italy to Spain but by way of France, Germany, the USA, Brazil, Argentina, Iceland, and Japan! 

Our performers call themselves Linü - or at least half of them do. This is a guitar duo consisting of South Korean guitarist JiJi and Icelandic guitarist and composer Gulli Björnsson but Mr. Björnsson was unable to make the trip to Harrisburg and so JiJi called upon Brooklyn-based guitarist Neil Beckmann to fill in (this happens often enough in the wider touring world of Classical Music even without a pandemic). Neil, in addition to being a guitarist and teacher, is also an "instrument builder" and "an arts worker interested in creating an expansive life in music for himself and others." An internationally acclaimed performer and a teacher as well, JiJi admits to enjoying cooking in her spare time and "creating weird sounds on Ableton."

"Performing on both classical and electric guitars, their classical training and contemporary influences all come to fruition as they present unique programs of classical music, improvisations, arrangements and new compositions."

Once again, I bow to the performer's own program notes to explain the ideas behind the program: 

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Antonio Vivaldi - Prelude & Corrente, RV64 - Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), born on March 4, 1678 in Venice, Italy, was a prolific composer who created works in the hundreds. He became renowned for his concertos in Baroque style, becoming a highly influential innovator in form and pattern. Vivaldi sought religious training on top of musical instruction. At the age of fifteen he began studying to become a priest and was ordained in 1703. Due to his red hair, Vivaldi was known locally as "il Prete Rosso," or "the Red Priest." Vivaldi's career in the clergy was short-lived. Health problems prevented him from delivering Mass and drove him to abandon the priesthood shortly after his ordination. The Prelude and Corrente is from a set of sonatas for two violins and basoon [sic] continuo written in 1705.

J. S. Bach - Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, “Air on a G String” - J.S. Bach’s (1685-1750) famous “Air on a G String” originates from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major. Orchestral suites, or Overtures, as they were often called, were immensely popular in Germany during the second quarter of the eighteenth century. The Air (for strings alone, as it was originally composed) features a “walking bass line” that keeps the momentum from being slowed by the subtle interweaving of inner lines. This is one of the most famous movements in all of Bach’s compositions. It achieved bon-bon status thanks to the violinist August Wilhelmj, who, in 1871, published it in an arrangement for solo violin under the title “Air on the G String” (since his transcription was meant to be rendered entirely on the violin’s lowest string).

Jean-Philippe Rameau - Suite in D major, RCT 3 8: Les Cyclopes (Rondeau) - Jean-Philippe Rameau (baptized September 25, 1683, Dijon, France—died September 12, 1764, Paris) was a leading French composer of his time that made tremendous contribution to the field of musical theory and particularly, Baroque compositions. Rameau spent the initial part of his life as a professional organist in Clermont Cathedral. In the early 1720’s, he moved to Paris where he composed and published many of his famous harpsichord pieces that went on to become legendary. He wrote three books of Pièces de clavecin for the harpsichord. The first, Premier Livre de Pièces de Clavecin, was published in 1706; the second, Pièces de Clavessin, in 1724; and the third, Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin, in 1726 or 1727. Les Cyclopes (Rondeau) is from the 2nd Pièces de Clavessin, written in 1724.

[French-American harpsichordist Justin Taylor performs Rameau's original version.]


Heitor Villa-Lobos - Cadenza: Quasi allegro – Andante – Quasi allegro – Poco moderato (from Guitar Concerto, W501) - Heitor Villa-Lobos (born March 5, 1887, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil—died November 17, 1959, Rio de Janeiro) was a Brazilian composer and one of the foremost Latin American composers of the 20th century, whose music combines indigenous melodic and rhythmic elements with Western classical music. Besides being a composer he was a skilled conductor, cellist, pianist, and guitarist and has been described as "the single most significant creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music". The Guitar Concerto, W501 Cadenza is in four unmetered sections with different tempo markings (Quasi allegro – Andante – Quasi allegro – Poco moderato) and is so substantial in length that it functions as a separate movement and even as a solo guitar piece.

Philip Glass – Mad Rush - Philip Glass, (born January 31, 1937, Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.), is an American composer of innovative instrumental, vocal, and operatic music. After studying composition at the Juilliard School of Music and in Paris, under Nadia Boulanger, he became acquainted with the Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar who decisively affected Glass’s compositional style. He began creating ensemble pieces in a monotonous and repetitive style. These works consisted of a series of syncopated rhythms ingeniously contracted or extended within a stable diatonic structure, now referred to as a kind of minimalist music. Mad Rush was written to honor the occasion of the Dalai Lama visiting North America in 1979. The opening three-voiced texture emphasizes two-note patterns playing against each other through a “two-against-three” polyrhythm. It is contrasted by a four-bar idea of rapid 16th notes that add two extra beats during the fourth bar.

[JiJi and Gulli Bjornsson perform Mad Rush.]  

Astor Piazzolla – Libertango - Another student of Nadia Boulanger, Astor Piazzolla (in full Astor Pantaleón Piazzolla) was born on March 11th, 1921 in Mar del Plata, Argentina, and died on July 4th, 1992 in Buenos Aires. He was an Argentine musician and a virtuoso on the bandoneón (a square-built button accordion). Having won a composing contest with his symphonic piece Buenos Aires (1951), he went to study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. She urged him to remain true to himself and to continue his experiments with the tango. Henceforth he combined his two musical passions, despite much criticism from tango traditionalists. Libertango is a composition from 1974 and marks a change in style for Piazzolla from classical tango to nuevo tango. He revolutionized tango music, by breaking the rules of traditional tango and fusing together elements of jazz and classical music into his tango compositions. He freed his country’s iconic music and dance form from the socially defined context of its origins and brought it to international concert halls. Perhaps it is best described by this short quote from the composer himself: “Libertango stands for the freedom which I allow for my musicians. Their limits are defined solely by the extent of their own capabilities and not through any exterior pressure.”

Gulli Björnsson – Bergmál - [Gulli Björnsson is 'a guitarist, composer and programmer from Iceland whose music typically ties electronics, live instruments and visuals to experiences in nature. His music has been described as “hypnotic” (News Gazette) “a knockout – wondrously inventive” (Soundboard Magazine) and “Virtuosic, modern, occasionally discordant, but still accessible” (Classical Guitar Magazine).' The composer writes,] “My composition Bergmál, Icelandic for echo (direct translation, “Rock-Language”) is a piece that I have recomposed for many different instruments and it is the only composition of mine I have treated this way. As a composer I am interested in the idea of looping and Bergmál is a great example of that. The core of the piece is 18 bars of counterpoint. The counterpoint is based on 4 melodic (horizontal) ostinatos (a continually repeated musical phrase) with fixed rhythm that loop continuously against each other. By looping these ostinatos, that are all of different lengths, and letting them clash against each other they create a surprisingly rich harmonic (vertical) matrix of chords that keep evolving, despite being fundamentally very repetitive. Bergmál is in two movements; the first movement is clear while the 2nd movement is blurry.”

[Listen to the Aizuri Quartet playing the version for “string quartet and mix-patch.” Notes provided with the video mention “About the audio effects: The string quartet is live processed through a max-patch. In the first movement it is subtle, with a reverb creeping in while the second movement is more wild using poly-rhythmic delay, reverb and a harmonizer.”]

Isaac Albeniz - Asturias - Isaac Albéniz, (born May 29, 1860, Camprodón, Spain—died May 18, 1909, Cambo-les-Bains, France) was a composer and virtuoso pianist and a leader of the Spanish nationalist school of musicians. Albéniz was a piano prodigy who studied with Felipe Pedrell, father of the nationalist movement in Spanish music, Vincent d'Indy and Paul Dukas. Albéniz’s fame rests chiefly on his piano pieces, which utilize the melodic styles, rhythms, and harmonies of Spanish folk music. Among his most notable works are Iberia and the Suite Española which contains the infamous Asturias. The piece, which lasts around six minutes in performance, was originally writtenfor the piano in G minor. The first guitar transcription of thepiece was probably by Severino García Fortea, although Andrés Segovia transcription is the most famous and influential. Robbie Krieger of The Doors famously reworked the melody from this classical piece in Spanish Caravan that features on their 1968 album Waiting For The Sun. [Listen here to Francisco Fullana playing an arrangement for solo violin.]

Claude Debussy - Suite Bergamasque: IV. Passepied (Gieseking) - Claude Debussy (born August 22, 1862, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France—died March 25, 1918, Paris) was a French composer whose works were a seminal force in the music of the 20th century. He developed a highly original system of harmony and musical structure that expressed in many respects the ideals to which the Impressionist and Symbolist painters and writers of his time aspired. The Passepied is the last movement of the solo piano suite: Suite Bergamasque. Although Gulli’s arrangement stems from the original solo piano composition, he was inspired to arrange it after listening to the brilliant arrangement of Passapied by the American Modern-classical bluegrass band Punch Brothers.

Lili Boulanger – Prélude en Ré - Lili Boulanger (Marie-Juliette Olga Boulanger) was born into a musical family and a sister to Nadia Boulanger. Lili, as she was called, suffered from chronic illness; beginning with a case of bronchial pneumonia at age two that weakened her immune system, leading to the "intestinal tuberculosis" that tragically ended her life at the age of 24. She was the first female winner of the Prix de Rome composition prize. The Prelude in D Flat is originally for solo piano and was composed in 1911, one of Lili Boulanger’s earliest compositions. The arrangement by Jiji for two guitars is a world premiere.

Ryuichi Sakamoto - Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence - Ryuichi Sakamoto is a Japanese composer, singer, songwriter, record producer, activist, and actor who has pursued a diverse range of styles as a solo artist and pioneered a number of electronic music genres. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is a 1983 British-Japanese war film directed by Nagisa Oshima starring David Bowie. The film marked Sakamoto’s debut as an actor and a film-score composer; its main theme (which we are performing in an arrangement by Jiji) became an international hit. The film is based on Sir Laurens van der Post's experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II as depicted in his books The Seed and the Sower (1963) and The Night of the New Moon (1970). Sakamoto's score won a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music in 1983.

Manuel de Falla - Spanish Dance No. 1, “La Vida da Breve” - Manuel de Falla (born November 23, 1876, Cádiz, Spain—died November 14, 1946, Alta Gracia, Argentina) is perhaps the most distinguished Spanish composer of the early 20th century. Falla took piano lessons from his mother and in 1905 he moved to Paris, where he met Claude Debussy, Paul Dukas, and Maurice Ravel. Subsequently Falla won two prizes, one for piano playing and the other for a national opera, La Vida Breve (first performed in Nice, France, 1913). The critics raved! Among the opera’s most popular numbers is “Spanish Dance No. 1,” a lively jota, which has since been arranged for a plethora of instrumental combinations, including two guitars. In the opera, the dance is performed as part of the betrothal celebration for Paco and Carmela, the girl of his own class that he must marry instead of his beloved Salud, a Gypsy maiden. 


Notes by JiJi

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