IN: Reviews

Composers Gather for Guitar Premieres


Aaron Larget-Caplan (file photo)
Aaron Larget-Caplan (file photo)

Aaron Larget-Caplan, guitarist, a faculty member of Boston Conservatory, gave a free recital there Friday, which although casual, had the unique distinction of gathering in one place an extraordinary number of published composers for more world and regional compositional premieres than most guitar audiences have ever witnessed.

Seully Hall at first appearance is the right sized venue for a concert featuring an instrument as intimate as the classical guitar, but acoustically it fell short. The sound seemed to somehow get trapped in the rafters for some of the more intimate moments, while competing both with traffic sounds and with a nearby piano practice room. Larget-Caplan played with astounding technical proficiency and artistic delicacy, but wanted at times for more assertiveness in dance-like rhythm and dynamic contrast in voicing, which may be due partly to the space and to the technical demands of a potentially overwhelming amount of new repertoire to prepare and assimilate in one recital. So to treat this performance fairly in review would be to view it not as a pricey and prestigious debut, but more experimentally as a technically rigorous presentation forum; and in that light, it was by all means a very impressive and enjoyable performance.

Larget-Caplan made several adjustments to the first half of the program. Instead of opening with his own arrangement of J.S. Bach’s Fugue in C Minor, BWV 962 (transposed to d minor), he switched a more solidly familiar piece he could play with ease and confidence. Kevin Siegfried’s Tracing a wheel on water (2003), as its name would imply, was composed of a fluid and harmonically accessible, cyclical minimalism that, although meditative, contained subtly delightful, textural and rhythmic surprises.

In the opposite order in which they appeared on the program, Larget-Caplan dove into three lullabies by three separate composers, all of whom were present that evening. Jim Dalton’s A World of Your Own and David Patterson’s Lullaby for Ewe (both composed in 2012), were each introduced to an audience for the first time. Instead of the tuneful, lulling, rhythmic regularity that one conventionally associates with lullabies, both these pieces had a similar ambience through texture that was sonorously metaphoric of a blank canvass being kissed by muted splashes of watercolor. In the program notes, Jim Dalton states,

A lullaby should be seen as an invitation to a world of one’s own making, a dream world. I present examples of my own inner world as an invitation to each to travel to their own place and to create it for themselves. The quarter tones dissolving to unisons at the beginning and end are meant to lull the listener by entrainment-tension to relaxation. The inner world is a place where the magical and surprising are ever present and commonplace. Since it is created by the dreamer, it should be welcoming and peaceful.

Dalton’s World was comprised of harmonics, chord suspensions, tritones, and pentatonic allusions to the Orient.

Lullaby for Ewe was composed for Aaron Larget-Caplan under his guidance and was conceived of by David Patterson as imagining a mother sheep singing in a kind of musical lamb language a song for her young. Its textures included gently tapping the front of the guitar, the building intensity of a repeated treble note, the far off “baaaah” of a vocal imitation coming from the audience, and to that audience’s great alarm, the rather prominent ringing of a cell phone set to the ringtone of an old fashioned, land line telephone. When the composer stood up to take his bow, he displayed his cell phone as an intentional interruption, and his location in the audience also indicated that he was responsible for the intentional insertion of the animal sound effect that was indeed a part of the score.

Nachtlied was the last of the lullaby set. Composed by Scott Wheeler, it premiered in Cambridge, MA in 2009 and was commissioned and dedicated to Catherine Creecy and George Providakes who both spent time residing in Germany. In the composer’s own words, “The title… is meant to suggest night and darkness, as well as the tender, erotic playfulness that is often present in Goethe’s poetry.” It was the most rhythmically structured of the three pieces, with a walking rhythm and climbing bass line, and in places a droning sense of being in a broadly stroked three hinting at hemiola.

Larget-Caplan’s arrangement of Bach’s Fugue in D Minor (originally c minor) BWV 962 was masterful and an impressive presentation of his virtuosity in a beautifully running bass line executed with poise and precision. Presenting stunning ornamentation and fine voicing, there were moments, however, when the tempo seemed to get away from him, and one moment in particular when he suffered a lapse of memory but recovered well.

Larget-Caplan followed the Bach fugue with the late Elliott Carter’s Shard, written for David Starobin’s 1997 “New Dance” recording which can best be described in the composer’s own words as “… a short, lively and whimsical guitar fragment…” Larget-Caplan described in the program notes his experience of the piece as having “… the musical ideas of a sonata packed into three minutes. … The piece requires many different right hand techniques: rasqueado (strumming), scales, arpeggio, chords, harmonics and finger-drags.” This first-time listener tended to hear sharp, choppy, atonal jumps, but in the spirit of playfulness.

For the close of the first half, Larget-Caplan brought onto the stage two of his classical guitar colleagues on the Boston Conservatory faculty. Berit Strong and Olav Chris Henrikson participated in a crowd-pleasing 19th-century piece for three guitars, Polonaise Concertante, op. 27, by M.A. Zani de Ferranti (1801-1878). An apparently admired figure in Europe’s cultural elite circles, Ferranti’s most audible influence by contemporary association in this romp is Rossini, as well as the late Donizetti. The point for Larget-Caplan was to collaborate convivially with his colleagues over a fun piece of music. It is doubtful they could afford to invest much time into this encore-like enchantment, but they certainly produced a pleasing performance and looked like they were enjoying themselves.

Larget-Caplan opened his second half with the entire Bach Suite in E Minor, BWV 996; standard classical guitar repertoire which he performed with elegant precision. This was followed by his exquisite guitar arrangement of John Cage’s Six Melodies for Violin and Keyboard (1950). Beautifully played by violinist Sharon Leventhal, of all the pieces on the program, it was Cage’s asymmetrical, leaning, off-foot rhythm and tonal but muted sonority and dynamics through the substitution of guitar that most effectively rocked the listener into quiet transcendence reminiscent of a lullaby.

The jewel of the evening was the Boston premiere of Thomas L. Read’s Capricci (2010), named after Giovanni Tapielo’s mysterious but fanciful, 18th-century etchings, while playing on the term “caprice” that would conventionally be applied to its one-movement, free musical form. Scored for guitar and string quartet (Nicole Parks and MacFarland Masterton, violin; Faith Jones, viola; Nora Karakousoglou, cello), Read’s choice to “…treat the guitar as an integral part of the ensemble rather than as a solo with, or as obbligato secondo…” was stunningly executed. It is an approach that could have failed in the wrong hands, but Read’s acoustical sensibilities for this instrumental combination resulted in musical passages that shimmered with vibrancy. A moment early on when the guitar and first violin (Parks) rang out in their respective upper registers in duet over the other instruments stood out as particularly brilliant.

A wardrobe puzzle in the Read ensemble was solved in the recital encore, in which the same group of instrumentalists returned to perform Roland Dyens’s Tango en Skai, taken at a rather fast but exhilarating clip. Every woman in the audience could not help but notice that every woman onstage was wearing conspicuously fabulous high-heeled shoes. Apparently, they were being worn as a prequel and spiffy accessory to this rather playful finale.

Janine Wanée holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Southern California, a Master of Music from Boston University, and professional certificates from the Boston University Opera Institute and summer Acting Shakespeare course at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. She is currently a member of the Copley Singers under Brian Jones and has sung in recital with guitar students of Jim Smith and David Leisner


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. I don’t like to comment on my own review but a couple of points:
    The audience was not a ‘guitar audience’ nor was the program designed for such a group. Though I don’t base my programs on the number of premieres, in this case five, I premiered nine compositions in December 2011 in Cambridge. Decent turn out for that as well.
    The trip or ‘lapse of memory’ was in the gigue from the Suite in E-minor, not in fugue BWV 962.

    Comment by ALC — March 4, 2013 at 5:27 pm

  2. For those who missed it: Shard by Elliott Carter

    Comment by ALC — March 12, 2013 at 11:26 am

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