Jonathan Leathwood plays Ricardo Iznaola [Monday Motivation]

Today we feature guitarist Jonathan Leathwood and Cellist Richard von Foerster performing a piece by Ricardo Iznaola. All Leathwood, Foerster, and Iznaola are all on the faculty at the University of Denver.

The piece, Gran Guaguancó, is energetic and well worth a listen.

Posted on in Monday Motivation

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  • jorge

    Not my cup of tea.
    I couldn’t make it past the first 13 seconds. Sounded (to me) like a naive carefree minimalist techno …

  • Justin

    I have to agree. I don’t know why modern compsers lean so heavily on dissonance, but it sounds unrefined and amaturish. I reminds me of kids just playing random notes on the guitar with no idea what they are doing (almost like those “shred” videos on youtube, check out Paco de Lucia Shreds if you don’t know what I am talking about). Hopefully composers will remember what the great composers of the past did and carry on their legacy. No wonder classical music is dying out if this is what we have to offer people. If you have to explain why it is beautiful, then it is not music.

    • Christopher Davis

      I agreed to some extent. To my ear the piece sounds pretty tightly organized, not unrefined. That said, I’m a bit more into this period of repertoire, and it’s what I enjoy. I also agree that it sounds a bit like techno (maybe that’s something I like about it). If anything, my critique is that the piece does not develop the material as well as it good. But not all composers are into that Beethovinian systematic development, which is okay (see Debussy).

      So you guys aren’t going to like the interview with Ricardo Iznaola coming out on Wednesday, huh? He’s more well known as a pedagogue than a composer.

    • Gordito

      It seems like the only people who can appreciate dissonant sounds are performers who are deeply into their music… the average listener might appreciate the skills but never the sound. The word that comes to mind is cacophony. I’m sorry. I always try hard to appreciate the performance and the work put into it but this type of music is just not a very pleasant musical experience for me. Too bad, you can’t go onto the next round!

  • Justin

    Don’t get me wrong Chris, I appreciate their talent, so yes the interview on Wednesday will get watched, and depending on what he has to say, enjoyed. Just because I don’t care for his repetoire, does not mean I cannot learn from him, as he is clearly a better player than me. I also understand that it takes great talent and knowledge to compose anything be it from the baroque or the modern era. It just seems like people now are writing music based soley on the mechanics of theory and adhearing to dissonance as the rule rather writing music that everyone can enjoy, not just music theory majors.

  • Todd

    In response to Justin’s comment. I get what he is talking about modern music sometimes being hard to listen to. It really has a complex structure and odd rhythms, sounds etc. I definately don’t listen to it every day. But lately I have been appreciating it and enjoy it the more I listen to it. There is so much good contemporary music out there and saying that contemporary or experimental music should follow “what great composers of the past did and carry on their legacy” is the missing the point. I think one of the greater and most interesting benefits of Modern or Contemporary music is that it shows us new forms of musical structure and in its presentation we can discover new sounds, rhythms, and different combinations of them, often never tried before. Some of the good stuff is like early rock music — ahead of its time. Its the “rebel” within the classical music world. It challenges musical stereotypes passed down through the centuries, and leaves us guessing, and begs us to ask “what is music?” or “what is classical”. That is actually a wonderful thing. What was considered “classical” music 100 years ago or even today — is changing.l There is nothing we can do about. I think it is an evolutionary process that takes a while, but once a larger amount of listeners say “we really like this”, it might be preserved for a long time and can become “classical”. For example, when Jackson Pollock did his first splatter paintings, most critics and other artists said it was garbage, wasn’t “real” art and “had to be explained” etc. Well, later it turned out he became one of the most influential and respected artist of our time, and albiet he could be considered a “classical” artist in the abstract world of art. I can see someone walking through the Met now and saying “now that is a classic piece of abstract art!” I have to admit though, that I am not the one that can distinguish a “good” contemporary composition vrs. a “bad” one. Right now I just listen to them all as a whole and I remain fascinated and enjoying it all.

  • jeffrey

    One thing that I find somewhat suspect is how composers of modern works try and increase its value. For example through the naming of the work.
    Take Iznaola’s piece: he’s named it Guaguancó.

    That happens to be a Cuban Dance. A from what I’ve been gathering it’s a really hot “salsa”-style of music. Think sexy girls dancing… sexy moves! Yeah!

    So in my eye’s calling the piece “Gran Guaguancó” is a huge misappropriation. There’s not a trace of what true cuban percussionists can do with the rhythm, or harmonic and rhythmic structure that really wants you to dance and feel something. Feel alive!

    Instead the work is thoroughly sterilized: sterilized in rhythm, melody and so many other facets. It’s like techno… and techno’s no latin dance, muchachos!

  • Derek

    I find that a lot of these videos you put on monday motivation, although they are really good videos, are ones that I’ve come across and have watched a million times before. You should get the people you interview to record a video so that there is something new.

  • Todd

    Jeffrey, I agree. I looked up some Guaguanco performances online also, and many of them sounded very different from this particular performance and adaptation. Especially since there was a lot of singing that was actually quite melodic and little bit less repetitive than in this performance. However, while many might not like this particular composition, I still think this is a very skillfull and impressive performance. I have the utmost respect for Professor Leathwood and Dr. Iznoala. Mr. Leathwood is is an amazing guitarist that can play just about anything in my opinion, and with great sensitivity. He is particularly good at 12 string instruments also. I am from the Denver Area, and considering his reputation (and Iznoala’s) I was suprised to find out how easy he was to talk to and that he goes out of his way to support aspiring guitarists of all levels. I know you are not questioning this. But I just wanted to say that I find him very inspiring, we are lucky to have them both here. In my opinion, Leathwood is taking the classical guitar to a new level in many ways. Right now my favorite music to play is from the Renaissance, but I can see myself getting bored with that genre years from now (limited repertoire) and exploring some more contemporary music. I checked out Christopher Davis’ Etude III and that is right up my alley. On a personal note: when I first moved here I was suprised to learn what a good guitar program they have at the Lamont School in Denver. I wonder how it ranks amongst the others in the country? I am really looking forward to learning more about Ricardo Iznoala in Chris’ interview. His Kithrologos Pedogogy book has got a lot of attention over the years…… I am new to blogging, and excited to be here…… I’ll work on writing shorter comments next time around. Sorry folks!!

  • Chris

    I think the piece is interesting. The performers found a nice balance between the instruments. This is not an easy feat for the guitar when paired with a bowed instrument. There is a lot of frivolity and humor in this music. We have a tendency to think of classical music as being very “serious.” I think that the light character of this piece represents emotions that have as much of a place in the concert hall as any others. No matter what our opinions might be, it is really nice to be exposed to new and different things!

  • Christopher Davis

    From Ricardo:

    I thought you might be interested to hear some of the original sources that
    inspired the Gran Guaguanco. It has nothing to do with the
    ‘salsa’ derivation of modern dance bands, but with its ritualistic origins
    in the Santeria religion in Cuba, in which its African ancestor, the ‘bembe’
    is a fundamental part. Here’s a page of a good group doing bembes and other
    related forms, listen, in particular, to the preview of # 20 Chango (bembe)
    for a flavor of the traditions I’m trying to evoke, without, of course,
    quoting: It has nothing to do with
    minimalism, techno or other such regrettable contemporary styles, and the
    obsessive repetitiveness is a necessary component of its nature as a
    trance-inducing ritual. The traditions are as ancestral as Africa itself.

  • Nikolay G

    Wow, 8 minutes is a bit rich. Imagine jamming this to your mom! Very well played though, I was really into it for the first 2:30 minutes, then it started sounding like noise. It’s like listening to Meshuggah, you can only take so many polyrhythms per minute.