in: Reviews

June 21, 2012

Blitz of Beauty, Vividness at GuitarFest


The seventh Boston GuitarFest is now underway at the  Northeastern University and New England Conservatory, with some 21 events including master classes, workshops, performance competitions and concerts scheduled. Based on last night’s concert, my very first encounter with the Festival, I would have to give it a two-picks-up and a-six-string-flourish. So I highly recommend catching a concert or two, especially if you are looking for a quieter but nonetheless fulfilling place. No amplification, just acoustic guitar.

Founder and Artistic Director Eliot Fisk wanted the audience to know how pleased he was finally to have been successful in recruiting the Amadeus Guitar Duo. Paired with this internationally applauded Duo was GuitarFest’s 2011 competition winner Edel Muñoz, a much-admired guitarist in his own right; and quite a pairing it was for the kick-off of what has every sign of being a spectacular five-day festival. Muñoz’s artistry bent on elegance, and the Duo’s flair for vivacity made for a winning exposé to the instrument’s compass.

According to Fisk, “Back to Bach,” the theme for this year’s Boston GuitarFest, means returning to those values that that Baroque giant held. There would be more than Bach’s music at the various events to be sure, but a same spirit would prevail, Fisk said. To most of us, Bach means the best, and the best was definitely sounding out on Wednesday evening.

Cuban native and American resident Muñoz, the program informs us, was only 13 years old when “Maestro Leo Brouwer described him as ‘perfect’ and ‘professional’ in every sense of the word.” What I heard in his playing matches up. Completely refined and thoroughly well expressed was how he came across to me, and, I would guess, to the 75 or so on hand (on a sweltering evening with no air conditioning as of yet installed in the space that was once a church). But please do not be put off by this. During his playing I had all but forgotten about the near-90° temperature.

In his Scarlatti, Bach, Aguado, and Rodrigo, immaculate phrasing, melodic contouring, contrapuntal-harmonic interaction, and rhythmic pronouncement asserted the notion of perfection ultimately to become an object of beauty — ravishing beauty. Overhearing one concert-goer’s comment at intermission about really liking the Rodrigo, I thought, said a lot. Invocación y danza was the perfect conclusion, a climactic one, to Muñoz’s set, one chocked full of idiomatic thrums and strums for the guitar, in sum a blitz of beauty.

The Amadeus Guitar Duo, Dale Kavanaugh (from Canada) and Thomas Kirchhoff (from Germany) staved off any discomfort from the “real” heat, as theirs was a performance radiating a warmth as well as exuding a fire that was all in all perfectly musical landscape for mindful escape. Such is suggested in their programming Thomas Ford’s Mr. Southcote’s Pavan, Händel’s Chaconne in G Major (transcription by Amadeus Guitar Duo), André Jolivet’s Sérénade pour deux Guitares, and Alfonso Montes’s Surama, Danza, Cha Cha, Raudo, Canto, and Surena (dedicated to Amadeus Guitar Duo). Both these serious and light pieces would come to life with this super-duper dynamic Duo. One might say, in drawing a parallel to Muñoz, the perfection of Kavanaugh and Kirchhoff ultimately found its way into breathtaking vividness.

Perfection as beauty and perfection as vivification complemented each other perfectly at this summer’s GuitarFest opener.

David Patterson, professor of Music and former chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.

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