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Texas Guitar Quartet Album Review: “Red”

2012 June 14
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by Giacomo Fiore

Texas Guitar Quartet Red

A few months ago the Texas Guitar Quartet — Isaac Bustos, Jonathan Dotson, Alejandro Montiel, and Joseph Williams — launched a Kickstarter campaign to finance their debut recording. I received the album for which I pledged in mid-March, and after a bout of repeated listens I knew I had to review it. The reasons are quite simple: this is truly an excellent work, sensitively performed and beautifully recorded, as well as featuring several new or novel selections. As a matter of fact, each track on the disk is a premiere of sorts—be it the new original composition Red by Joseph Williams, the debut recording of Antoine de Lhoyer’s Air Varié et Dialogue, or the trio of new arrangements that round off the album. These latter selections are ambitious—they include one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (number three, to be precise), and Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, as well as a pair of more likely arrangement candidates in Isaac Albeniz’s Castilla and Aragón. I must confess raising an eyebrow (or two) when first going over the tracklist, but any trepidation on my part was premature: the TxGQ guys know what they are doing, and they manage to pull off every piece on this recording in a musical and convincing manner.

The opening Bach is played with élan and gusto; the arrangement distributes the parts among the four guitars in an effort to mitigate the congestion in the midrange inherent in the instrumentation — I still think these kind of arranging projects would benefit from the employment of extended range instruments, like bass and terz/alto guitars. In a similar way, the Beethoven pushes the ensemble to the very limits of the medium: I couldn’t help but long for a bit more oomph at the climaxes. Despite these minor aesthetic quibbles, the group pulls off these works with style, and I imagine hearing a live performance would make for a truly memorable experience.

The arrangements of two Albeniz pieces — extracted from the composer’s celebrated and well-known Suite Española — play to one of the ensemble’s strengths by employing an extensive array of coloristic devices, not in imitation of other instruments but for sheer expressive effect. At times I was convinced that the pieces fit on the four guitars better than on the original piano—a remarkable achievement for any arrangement.

The two pieces that were originally conceived for guitar quartet — as I mentioned, both world premieres — are similarly remarkable. The Lhoyer piece, which is among the earliest examples of the genre, underwent some re-arranging to bring all four parts to the same general difficulty level, vis-à-vis the more hierarchical distribution of the original. The piece is a set of variations alternating between dark, Sturm-und-Drangy moods and a more lighthearted tune, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this became more popular among ensembles in the next few years.

Finally, Joseph William’s original suite Red explores some serious existential ground and provides a refreshing and modern close to the entire record. Ranging from rhythmically driven to more calm and lyrical sections, William’s writing is idiomatic yet never gimmicky, as it empolys the natural resonance of the four guitars to great harmonic and coloristic effect.

As an album, Red is flawless both in terms of the execution of the four players (all accomplished soloists in their own right, yet truly gifted and attuned as an ensemble), as well as in the quality of the production, with its lush, clear, and rich sound. After a debut of this caliber, I am eager to see where they will be going next; I can only recommend that you check out their work, which is available on Amazon, Bandcamp, CDBaby and iTunes.

2012 Parkening International Guitar Competition Winners

2012 June 3
by Christopher Davis

The Parkening Competition isn’t really your average guitar competition. First off, the prizes are large. Second, the screening process is intense.

The competition took place May 30 – June 2, 2012 in Malibu, California.

International Competition Winners

First Place: Petrit Ceku
Second Place: Rafael Aguirre
Third Place: Florian Larousse
Fourth Place: Solomon Silber
Fifth Place: Alberta Khoury

Petrit Ceku Classical Guitar

Petrit Ceku

[source]

Young Guitarist Competition Winners

First Place: Alec Holcomb
Second Place: Noah Kim
Third Place: Jennifer Kim
Fourth Place: Sean Keegan
Fifth Place: Ashwin Krishna

Watch the Winners Perform

Petrit Ceku

Alec Holcomb

2012 Louisville Guitar Competition Winners

2012 May 31
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by Christopher Davis

The Louisville Guitar Competition was held May 24-28, 2012 at the University of Louisville. Next year there won’t actually be Louisville festival as the 2013 GFA convention will be at the UofL in Louisville, KY — the Louisville competition and festival will be back on schedule in 2014.

Solo Artist Division Winners (all ages)

First Place: Joseph Palmer
Second Place: Celil Refik Kaya
Third Place: Jeremy Collins
Fourth Place: Antoniy Kakamakov

Joseph Palmer Classical Guitar

Joseph Palmer

Youth division I Winners (14 & under)

First Place: Hannah Wade
Second Place: Mallory Richards

Youth division II Winners (15-17)

First Place: Joseph Douglas
Second Place: Victoria Medley
Fourth Place: Devin Brown

Watch Winner Joseph Palmer Play

Learn to Count (and Play!) Cross-Rhythms

2012 May 29
by Giacomo Fiore

Cross-rhythms—the simultaneous sounding of two different rhythmic grouping—are a predominant feature of much instrumental music since the mid-nineteenth century. In the guitar repertoire, you’re bound to find cross-rhythms in contemporary and modern pieces; perhaps the most famous example is the third movement of Britten’s Nocturnal, which features 2-against-3 and 3-against-4 patterns pretty much throughout. The music of guitarist-composer Dusan Bogdanovic is also full of polyrhythmic/polymetric inventions, especially in those pieces that draw inspiration from popular musics around the world.

Even though each cross-rhythm has a specific “sound” that can be learned and reproduced as necessary, I find it best to use a method to figure out the exact rhythmic relationship between the two parts, so that any figuration, no matter how complicated, can be learned and performed most accurately. Fortunately this method is very simple and extremely flexible, so let’s cut to the chase and actually figure out how it works.

The idea for figuring out any given cross-rhythm is to forget about the relative rhythmic value of the notes (i.e. the duration in relation to the meter/tempo), and just approach the two groupings in absolute terms. How does the two patterns actually fit together? Let’s start with a simple cross-rhythm like 2-against-3.

In order to figure out the exact rhythmic placement of each note, let’s start by finding the least common multiple (LCM) of the two rhythmic values—namely 2 and 3. Basic arithmetic tells us that the LCM of 2 and 3 is 6.

Let’s write out two series of six equal “subdivisions” (forget about their actual value in terms of eighth-note or sixteenth—it doesn’t matter at this stage)

1 2 3 4 5 6
1 2 3 4 5 6

Now let’s group each series according to the rhythmic values we’re trying to fit together; basically we want one series to have two beats, and the other three.

1 2 3 1 2 3 (two beats)

1 2 1 2 1 2 (three beats)

Now let’s focus on where each beat happens (the 1’s in the example)

Cross Rhythms & Poly Rhythms ex. 1

If you read “across” the two series and only play the accented beats, you’ll have the exact cross-rhythmic pattern you were setting out to discover in the first place. Just tap the 1s and count the other subdivisions to keep a steady time. As you get more comfortable, just tap the accented beats and think of the subdivisions. As you bring the entire group up to the speed of your original context, you’ll have your accurately spaced out cross-rhythm.

Let’s try 4-against-3. The LCM is 12. Let’s write out the two series as three-groups-of-four and three-groups-of-three.

Cross Rhythms & Poly Rhythms ex. 1

If you play just the accented beats you’ll hear a 4-against-3 cross-rhythm.

Of course, things get a bit more complicated as the numbers get bigger. Here’s 5-against-4 (LCM=20).

Cross Rhythms & Poly Rhythms ex. 3

In order to translate the more complicated cross-rhythms to the musical context, you have to reintroduce the correct subdivision pulse into the mix. The faster (higher number) subdivision is the one you’re after—in this latter case, place your accents across a steady count of five (if you “zoom out” the pattern so that it encompasses just a single beat level, the actual subdivision is a 20-tuplet).

When playing the accented patterns, it helps to keep two hands separate and make two different sounds—maybe by rapping the desk with the knuckles of your left hand, and (gently) beating your chest with your open right hand.

I hope you will find this method to decipher cross-rhythms useful. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to unlock even the most complicated patterns—and the beauty of this method is that it’s “scalable” to whatever level of complexity you need.

2012 Koblenz International Guitar Competition Winners

2012 May 28
by Christopher Davis

The 2012 Koblenz Guitar Festival was held May 21-28, 2012. There were three rounds of free choice music — 10, 15, and 30 minutes. Competitors could not repeat pieces from round to round.

The Competition Winners

First Place: Not Awarded
Second Place: Chia-Wei Lin (Taiwan)
Third Place: Anton Baranov (Russia)

Giuseppe Zinchiri (Italy) won the Premio Joaquín Rodrigo award for the best interpretation of a work by Joaquín Rodrigo.

Watch Chia-Wei Lin Play

Watch Anton Baranov Play

[source]

2012 Appalachian GuitarFest Competition Winners

2012 May 23
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by Christopher Davis

The Appalachian State GuitarFest was held April 12-15, 2012. There were three division in the competition — Division I being the main event: open guitarists born on or after April 1, 1982. There were three rounds of free choice music.

Division I Competition Winners

First Place: Silviu Ciulei
Second Place: Joseph Palmer
Third Place: Max Zimmerman
Fourth Place: Hazen Clough

Silviu Ciulei Classical Guitar

Silviu Ciulei

Division II Competition Winners

Open to high school students grades 9 – 12.

First Place: Kevin de Miranda
Second Place: Zac Richey
Third Place: Sam Biagioli

Division III Competition Winners

Open to students grade 8 and under.

First Place: Mary Sarmur
Second Place: William Blackburn

Watch Winner Silviu Ciulei Play

What I Learned in Guitar Ensemble

2012 May 22
by Giacomo Fiore

Many guitarists roll their eyes at the prospect of another semester of Guitar Ensemble—a requirement in most academic music programs. Granted, a large numbers of under-rehearsed guitarists trying to time their attacks (more often than not resulting in an annoying “slapback” effect) can be a dreadful thing to experience, but in retrospect what I have learned from six years of playing in ensemble has been more than worth having to endure its worst moments.

It’s a Privilege, Really

While many full-time students would rather practice their solo rep rather than reading through a 24 guitar version of a Catalan folk song, large ensembles offer an invaluable opportunity for music-making to community members, adult learners, and other guitar enthusiasts. For many amateur musicians, participating in an ensemble is the easiest and safest way to get on stage, allowing them to gain in confidence and gear up to their own solo presentations. The regimen of rehearsals and scheduled performances can also be a boon for those who had to place the guitar on the back-burner as other priorities took over, offering both structure and an incentive to keep the chops up.

Professionalism

Barring previous experience from playing in an orchestra or marching band, the average classical guitarist is often clueless as to how to behave in a professional musical ensemble. A well-disciplined guitar ensemble director should enforce a few simple rules that will come in handy throughout the students’ professional career—whether they end up playing “in the pit” for a musical, or are called up at the last minute to read the mandolin part on a contemporary piece.

First and most importantly, when playing in an ensemble you should show up at the first rehearsal with your part fingered, learned, and all page turns worked out. This is especially important for guitarist given that, apart from a few exceptions, we tend to be pretty crappy readers. In a professional solution, not having your part ready at a first rehearsal would likely result in getting fired on the spot and never called back again—so the academic environment, when managed in a professional manner, can serve as a “safe” training ground to get into this essential habit. Other useful things to learn: always bring a pencil, be silent (both verbally and in terms of noodling on your instrument) when the conductor speaks, be on time, and be in tune.

Preparing for Bigger Things to Come

At the opposite end from the community player spectrum, playing in a conducted ensemble can benefit those with virtuoso aspirations. Weekly rehearsal leading to a public performance will give plenty of opportunities to learn how to follow a conductor’s patterns, cues, and expressive gestures. One idiosyncratic benefit of the guitar ensemble repertoire is that much of the more modern pieces feature mixed and odd meters, which are much easier to learn under the guidance of a conductor. All of these benefits are sure to add up and pay off if and when you will be asked to perform as a soloist with an orchestra, or as part of a professional contemporary ensemble—thus gaining access to some of the most exciting and rewarding music in our repertoire.

Aside from these utilitarian considerations, being part of a guitar ensemble can be a rewarding experience in of itself. As with everything worth doing in life, ensemble practice is worth doing well—if you take it seriously and professionally, you may find you’re enjoying your time in the plucking orchestra after all.

2012 Montreal International Classical Guitar Competition Winners

2012 May 21
by Christopher Davis

The 2012 Montreal Classical Guitar Festival & Competition was held April 27-29, 2012. The competition itself was open to all ages, provided the competitors weren’t under major management. There were three rounds (Qualification, Semi-finals, Finals) of all free choice music.

International Division Competition Winners

First Place: Brendan Evans
Second Place: Max Zuckerman
Third Place: Brent Crawford

Brendan Evans

Brendan Evans

Youth Competition Winners

First Place: David Steinhart
Second Place: Simon Parenteau

Watch Winner Brendan Evans Play

Enjoy Your Progress

2012 May 18
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by Seth Guillen

Musicians generally share the idea that they are never done; there is always one more piece, another
technique, an alternate phrasing etc… These ideas coupled with the selfish nature of learning an
instrument the tendency can be to focus on deficiencies instead of what we have accomplished. Why
is this? I know that I am guilty of it myself, yet when I am teaching, I focus on what my students have
accomplished because I can see in them that they only realize what they have left to do, learn or
accomplish.

Look back

Instead of always learning new music, go back. Revisit a piece you learned some time ago. By this I
do not mean a month, six months or even a year. If you have been playing long enough, go back three
years; go back to your freshman year of college or before. Pull out the study in B minor by Sor (or any
other piece) you learned because you were instructed to. Play it, learn it and enjoy it! My guess is that
you will enjoy playing through the B minor study or any other piece you learned and realizing how far
you have come. This time when you are learning try applying all of the ideas you have learned, hear
things in new ways, play it differently than you did then and experience how far you have come as a
player. As existential as this sounds, it is incredibly gratifying! I recently began working on the Sor
Mozart variations for fun. It is a completely different piece to me now that it was five years ago when I
learned it for my junior recital.

Never forget

We play guitar so we can play and make music. Connect with people in a different way than is possible
through any other form of communication. Enjoy the journey you have traveled so far, look back from
time to time and do not get caught up in where you are going all the time. It is incredible rewarding to
revisit pieces and can reveal how far you have come and possible make the path you need to continue
on clearer!

Home Recording for the Classical Guitarist

2012 April 18
by Giacomo Fiore

With the constant innovation of digital recording systems, putting together a full-fledged home recording setup has never been easier—or cheaper. Let’s see what options are available to the guitarist who wants to start exploring the wonderful (or terrifying) world of audio recording.

All in One Solutions

An easy way to get one’s feet wet without investing too much money into equipment or software is to go the handheld recorder way. There are countless models available, starting at just around $100 and climbing upwards with the addition of more features and higher quality components. Things to look for: a decent pair of built-in stereo microphones (either cardioid in XY configuration, or omni), the lowest possible self-noise, and the possibility to record uncompressed audio at higher bitrates for ease of editing. While some of the fancier models allow you to use better external microphones, and could be considered a sort of modular, expandable solution, I am a bit skeptical of the quality of the built-in preamplifier and converters—if you want to use external microphones, I think it’s better to invest on decent pres and interfaces as well, and use an all-in-one for live recordings, scratch tapes, practice sessions, and the likes.

Editors Note: I’ve had some nice success with all in on products like the Zoom Q8

Computer and Interfaces

If you already have a functioning and relatively up-to-date computer it makes sense to consider using it as the core of your digital audio workstation (DAW). To do so, you will need to purchase an audio interface. Like digital recorders, interfaces come in all sizes, price ranges, and feature sets. You want to make sure the interface you choose is compatible with your computer and OS, and you want to get at least two microphone inputs with 48v phantom power available. Interfaces can get expensive, but entry-level ones by Focusrite, M-Audio, and Presonus are perfectly serviceable. A step up on the price ladder, something like the Apogee Duet (Mac only) will effectively put you on par with many semi-pro studios.

You will also need software for editing. Again, your OS and computer will dictate what’s available; keep in mind that free software DAWs are perfectly fine for learning the ropes. You can always upgrade at a later time once your needs become more sophisticated.

It’s NOT all about the gear

The greatest peril of getting the home recording bug lies in the allure of higher quality, more expensive gear, and its promise of “magical” results. The truth is that mid-level microphones and converters would be perfectly fine for the vast majority of situations that require serviceable, professional results, and that a good recording depends in a much greater way on the abilities of the engineer (in this case, YOU) and the acoustic qualities of the room than on the minute differences between the performance of a $500 mic vs. a $1000 one (hint: the second one is generally NOT twice as good). Conversely, I think it’d be unlikely for someone to produce a truly commercial grade recording in their home studio without investing some serious money in acoustical treatment and noise isolation (we’re easily talking a few thousand dollars).

Another overlooked caveat: when self-recording the musician has to act in the three roles of producer, engineer, and performer. Although some people can juggle the necessary and different skillsets (Tillman Hoppstock seems to be able to do so just fine), I would suggest that an extra pair of ears end up making the guitarist’s job much easier. A good producer can help you see through the haze of technical perfectionism and tell you that yes, we do have a real solid take of that passage; if necessary, they will also draw attention to the kind of tiny problems that would become much greater were they to go unnoticed until the editing stages.

The real benefits of having a serviceable recording setup lie in getting more comfortable in front of microphones, learning how to best capture one’s guitar sound by exploring various microphone placing techniques, and, in the case of a mobile setup, the possibility to do location recordings. As you continue to develop your engineering and editing skills you may get to the point where you can rent a quiet, acoustically pleasant location (such as a remote church or a well-insulated performance hall), bring your own gear, and go to town. In light of all of these benefits, it may well be worth it to invest in a standalone recorder or an interface+microphones setup to start experimenting—just don’t end up spending all of your free time reading microphone shootout threads on Gearslutz.com.