Monday, February 23, 2009

Unintentional Hiatus

I used to have excellent luck with computers, but I'm currently in a slump. My Mac Mini's HD died, and the G5 and 23" Cinema HD Display I got to replace it is having teething pains. The tower is fine, but the monitor was DOA and the repair lasted all of 30 hours. ARG! Plus, I couldn't find a G5 with Airport and Bluetooth, so I had to order the combo card and it's not here yet. I probably have a backlog of four or five posts I want to do.

This has spurred me into the idea of having two G5's and two Cinema HD displays now. I just can't afford for computer problems to cramp my style, and my laptops, while serviceable, just aren't the same to work on at all.

Here's an interesting Christopher Parkening reminiscence of Andres Segovia I found on YouTube, in two parts:

I was busy learning one of my first E-Axis Studies when I got the news that Segovia had died. Difficult to believe it's been over twenty years now.

Oh, and, a wholesome babe, of course.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

San Antonio Wedding Fair

One of my musical buds - a guy I go back to The Southwest Guitar Conservatory and Berklee with - tuned me in to an event I'd never have thought of attending before, the San Antonio Wedding Fair. I've been to several music industry trade shows in the past - NAMM, AES, and CES - so I sorta/kinda knew what to expect, but I decided to play it minimalist nonetheless: Just my 17" PowerBook with iTunes playing a five-song demo, flyers, cards, and my RMC Nylon Fly as a prop.

My primary mission was to connect with as many wedding planners, event coordinators, caterers, &c. as possible, because I didn't really expect much "off the street" business, and I accomplished that, but I also got a surprising level of interest from the brides and grooms to be. I was kinda ticked off that I had to miss the last day of the Southwest Guitar Festival - the Assad brothers played - but I'm glad I went.

There's another one of these in June, and since I got the lay of the land this time, I'll bring a full sound system and do some actual performing at that one. I'm guessing there were two or three other musicians at the show, plus a couple of bands, and they would play briefly every hour or so, and everyone seemed to be conscientious about not stepping on each other's toes. The DJ's, OTOH, were a different story. Oh well.

I'm sure glad I brought a pair of headphones!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Southwest Guitar Festival, Day Four

The main competition event, the final round, was at Travis Park United Methodist Church, just a block away from the Majestic in downtown, San Antonio (Don't get me started on the touchy-feely UMC business; I'm a Lutheran. LOL!). It was a nice venue in may ways, but it was down freaking town, so loud trucks passing by were a distraction from time to time. I know it's a historic church, but I think a more modern venue in a quieter location would have been preferable.

Our four finalists, Nemanja Ostojic, Florian Larousse, Pablo Garibay, and Austin Moorhead, were all excellent. There were a lot of plusses and very few minuses to each performer, so I was really glad I wasn't a judge (Yeah, yeah; like that would ever happen).

Serbian born Ostojic played pieces by Moreno-Torroba, Castelnuevo Tedesco, and Koshkin - Koshkin's The Fall of Birds was the only piece I wasn't familiar with, and I loved it. The others? Feh, I've heard them too much, but they are great competition pieces. I figured he'd come in second or third as everything was well played, but he didn't wow me. He won the grand prize, of course. LOL!

Florian Larousse of France was my personal favorite. He's only 20 and doesn't have very good stage presence, but I liked the subtlety and clarity of his playing. I also liked his selection of pieces: Fantasie by Napoleon Coste and the amazing Sonata by Antonio jose, which has become a competition staple, because it's like a frenetic novel for guitar. It's way to bombastic for my personal taste, but I can sure see why competitors love it, because it is positively epic and filled with bravura. Since I liked him best, Florian got third, of course.

Pablo Garribay of Mexico also played the Jose sonata, and everyone I talked to thought he played it better than Larousse did, so as far as I know I was in a minority of one. Typical. Story of my life. Yadda, yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah. What I found irritating about Garribay were some of his showy mannerisms. He'd flip his right hand open after some chord plucks, for example, which I found distracting, and perhaps even a bit pretentious. I thought he should have been third, but he ended up second.

Austin Moorhead, the sole American in the final, was the only one I got right: He ended up fourth, but damn what a great field he was playing in. He played really, really well, but there wasn't any highly virtuosic and showy cap piece to his selections. It also didn't help that he played last and had the same Torroba piece in his set as Ostojic did. One thing I did like was his guitar, which had a really bad-ass, spruce-top, smack-you-in-the-eardrums, crystalline sound. He's been a GFA finalist a couple of previous times, so perhaps this just wasn't his day.

Well, that wraps it up for me, as I didn't attend the jazz concert or Sunday's festivities, as I had other business to attend to, which I'll post about tomorrow.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Southwest Guitar Festival, Day Three

The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet played the world premier of Sergio Assad's new Concerto for Guitar Quartet and Orchestra, Interchange at The Majestic Theatre last night.

The Guitar Institute of the Southwest, where I studied with Jackie King, Herb Ellis, and Pat Martino - among others - was on the 14th floor of The Majestic Building, so these are old stomping grounds for me. I used to watch parades down Houston St. from the balcony above that sign.

The Majestic Theatre is one of those old super-ornate movie theatres built back in the early 1900's. I took this shot with my iPhone from my seat before the concert started.

Everything was restored, so even the ancient cloud machine works. That's right, those clouds appear to move across the night sky. Today, The Majestic is home to The San Antonio Symphony. Back in the late 70's, before the restoration - when the place was full of cobwebs and looked like a haunted castle - me and my buds used to sneak in there and smoke pot. LOL!

I ran into Bill Kanengiser - the head of the LAGQ - before the show (I got there WAY early), and he actually remembered me from playing some of my originals for him at a master class he gave back in the early 90's. We just basically said hello, I told him I was excited about the world premier, he admitted to being a little nervous, I said they'd rock, and that was that. He's a real gracious guy and a class act. Hell, he even makes music page-turns look elegant.

Mr. Assad's piece is quite nice, and an excellent - as well as much needed - addition to the repertoire for GQ and orchestra. He wrote it especially with the LAGQ in mind, so he was able to tailor movements to suit the strength of the various players: Bill the super-legit classical guy, Scott the Flamenco monster, John with his 7-string bass-extended Humphrey Millennium guitar, and Matt - the FNG LOL! - and his big-time jazz chops. Seriously, it was way better than I expected. Sergio has developed some serious orchestration chops, which frankly surprised the hell out of me (Most guitarists suck at orchestration, myself included), and Bill needn't have been nervous, because the guys rocked, as I told Bill they would.

Sure, there were some moments of very slightly out of kilter and out of sync stuff, but considering that this is a positively monumental undertaking of a piece, it went amazingly well. I was very pleasantly surprised, because my expectations were pretty low, to be blunt. Regular readers know I think the guitar is kind of ridiculous as a concerto instrument, but last night the LAGQ had just a touch of amplification, and you could hear the guitars quite well without any overt intrusions by the amp tech. Seriously, it was one of those things that made me go, "hmmmm."

I just got home from the competition finals. I'll write that up tomorrow night.

Simple and natural is good.

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Southwest Guitar Festival, Day Two

I managed to miss the 4:00 PM concert by Isaac Bustos yesterday, because I was too busy because I needed a nap after my rigorous morning/afternoon practice regimen (Hey, give me a break: I'm 51 years old!). Sorry about that.

In any event, I did manage to get to the 7:30 PM concert by Denis Azabagic, a Bosnian born guitarist, and it was fantastic. He changed up his program a bit, but the after-intermission part had some wonderful "alive guy music," which pleased me greatly.

First half Mr. Azabagic played the Villa-Lobos 5 Preludes, The Torroba Sonatina, and Sor's Mozart Variations. This is all high quality music - and his articulation, execution, and interpretation was superb - but I've heard this old stuff so much over the years that it's really not possible for me to "get into it" with these pieces anymore. That's one of my main gripes with the whole legit classical guitar scene, right there: The standard rep has been played to death, and I mean double-indemnity-dead death. But then, I'm the guy who is in favor of a quarter-century moratorium on new performances and recordings of the Bach Lute Suites because I just can't stand to listen to those damned things anymore (I do play three of those pieces, in the interest of full disclosure: Bourree in E Minor, Gavotte II in A minor (Gavotte I sucks), and the Sarabande in A minor).

For the second part of the program, Mr. Azabagic played his own arrangement of the Bach Flute Partita BMW BWV 1013. He did an outstanding job with the arrangement, and I wasn't overly familiar with the music, so I enjoyed that. Hey, I love Bach - he's my second favorite composer behind Beethoven - but Bach has become the victim of his own popularity. At least it wasn't a goddamned Lute Suite! He had a hilarious story to go along with the suite that involved a broken thumb, but there's no way I could do it justice, you had to be there. Azabagic is excellent with an audience and "manages" them brilliantly. It is impossible not to know when to applaud, for example, even when there is a pause between pieces, just because of his manner. This is one of the marks of a seasoned and brilliant performer.

Then came all of the choicest moments for me, as the last two selections were alive guy music! Excellent alive guy music, as well. Collectici Intim (Intimate Collection in Catalan, just about obviously) by Vicente Asencio is a five movement suite kind of thing, and it has the Spanish Catalan flavor totally and completely down without sounding cliche at all. Quite fresh and interesting, and with lots of showy sections for the guitarist to display his virtuosity. This is high praise from me, as I'm not much into the Spanish thing at all. In any event, this music is a great addition to the guitar's repertoire, which, as I harp on too much, I suppose, is mostly populated by old war horses who have seen way too many battles.

He saved the best for last with Cafe Pieces by Vojislav Ivanovic, which was just killer. I'm trying to remember the last time I described new guitar music as "killer," and it would have to be when I first heard my friend Mark Cruz' Fuego Y Lluvia. I'd play that, as a matter of fact, but it has a peculiar scordatura that just doesn't fit into my set anywhere... but, I digress.

If I didn't know Ivanovic's nationality, Id be hard pressed to tell from the music. It has an organic plasticity to it that suggests that it is just a 100% natural result of his life musical experiences, which is as it should be, IMO (That's what I "go for," as a matter of fact). There was plenty of technical brilliance, but it was always musical, and not just a display of technique for the sake of technique. As my lame attempts make obvious, it it indescribable music, but indescribably delicious.

Evidently, there are eight pieces in this set, and Mr. Azabagic played Nos. 2 and 3 in the set proper, and then No. 1 as an encore. That encore piece was an idiomatic guitar tremolo kind of thing - think Leyenda - but the take on it was so fresh that it easily transcended any stereotypes.

I was disappointed that the Cafe Pieces were not on either of the two CD's for sale after the show, but I bought one anyway (And, I almost NEVER buy classical guitar music anymore). So yes, I really liked this particular concert.

Oh, everything was played from memory, which is how it ought to be done, and I was amazed that Denis could close his eyes and get into it during some really, really technical sections. Excellent.

BTW: I talked with Dr. Dunne briefly at an after-concert party last night, and the sound system he played through the previous night wasn't his, and he wasn't happy with the sound either. That got me to thinking on the drive home, I'd like to get him over with his condenser mic setup and try it through one of my systems. It may need something like a tube mic preamp, but it would be interesting to see if I could get a really, really excellent amplified sound for an acoustic classical guitar now. Plus, it would be loads of fun.

Welp, I have to practice before the 4:00 PM downtown guitar ensemble concerts, and tonight is LAGQ! The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet is really the only thing in the legit classical guitar world that I've always found fresh and interesting, and I first encountered Scott Tennant at a Pepe Romero masterclass in Houston in 1980! Pepe called him, "super keed" back then (You have to get Pepe's Spanish accent in there for the full effect). LOL!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Southwest Guitar Festival, Day One

Pardon the light blogging, but my Mini's HD died, and I'm on my Powerbook at the moment. Took the "opportunity" to by a refurb PowerMac G5 and new 23" Cinema HD Display, though, so I ought to be back better than ever once it gets here... and I get it set up!

I sure picked the right time to move to San Antonio! The Southwest Guitar Festival is currently being held at The University of Texas, San Antonio, so I shelled out the $125.00 for an all-access Participant Registration. I was considering going to all of the Competition Rounds, but I just have too much to do, so I'll start that coverage with the quarter-final round.

Back when I was working on my MM at Texas State and DMA at UNT, I was actually in on the creation of the SWGF, so I went to the first three of these events. SWGF has grown! It is now an international festival with competition participants from around the world and top flight prize money. One of the guitar student-participants I met told me there were over thirty guitarists in the competition, and only about five were from the US! That's amazing to me, as this just started out with the guitar departments of UTSA, Texas State, and UNT getting together for some regional interaction. Good to see!

I really wanted to live blog this event, but the UTSA wi-fi system requires a student password, so I think I'll suggest that next time they give temporary ID's and passwords to event Participants; it's 2009, for crying out loud!

Last night's program was by UTSA's guitar professor, Dr. Matthew Dunne, as is traditional for first night concerts at festivals. Before I continue, let me remind regular readers and inform new ones that I am not, nor have I ever been, a legit classical guitarist. I have some outstanding issues with that whole scene, frankly, but I will attempt to be as charitable as possible. However, I am a very good composer, with strong opinions about the shortcomings of that contemporary scene, but again, I'll attempt to summon up as much graciousness as I can muster.

First up on the program was Triqueta for Guitar, Horn, and Chamber Orchestra by Dr. James Scott Balentine, who is UTSA's theory/comp guy. In the program notes, Dr. Balentine says that the piece was inspired in part by Brazillian rhythms and jazz harmonies. I certainly detected that with no problem, and the piece had some nice moments, but there didn't seem to be any clear-cut goals or nice arrivals - things that are important to me - and some of the rhythmic aspects bordered on the herky-jerky to my taste, but I'm an old fashioned counterpoint and harmony guy, so take that with the proverbial grain of salt, I guess. The audience enjoyed the piece and it got hearty applause, so I may have been in the minority as a nonplussed listener. At the very least, it wasn't atonal "beeps and squawks" music, which I really can't stand.

Dr. Dunne's performance was fine, but the guitar part wasn't overly flush with idiomatic guitar effects, which is sorta/kinda what I expect when a non-guitarist writes for the instrument. Oh well. More distracting to me was Dr. Dunne's amplification system. It was actually quite good compared to what most acoustic classical guitarists settle for, but since I've been playing electric nylon string guitar for about twenty years now, I have ridiculously high standards and found the sound quality lacking.

Matt has the right idea going with a mini-PA arrangement - that's how I do it - but the speakers, I think they were EV's - were rather lame sounding, IMO. Generally, the sound was too "stringy" with not enough wood, and there wasn't enough bass! LOL! He appeared to be using a small condenser mic mounted so that it was a few inches above the guitar's top - again, quite high tech compared to what most acoustic classical guys settle for - but it just wasn't cutting it compared to the richness of the unamplified chamber orchestra. Perhaps I'll turn him onto my Turbosound TXD-081's, which are the be-all and end-all for PA speakers of that size. The real question is, if you are amplifying a $3,000.00+ guitar, how can you expect it to sound killer without about that much invested in the PA? At original retail prices, the least expensive of my four PA's would be about $4K!

He also didn't have a mute button, and the controls were on a floor unit to his right. Since he had to re-tune for some scordaturas in the set, this came out full volume over his sound system, which was... er... distracting. I use a digital tuner with a mute button in a rack to my right at shoulder level to both avoid that and make mid-set retunings quicker: This is the ultimate solution for this problem.

Oh, the horn player, Michael Gast, was freaking brilliant! I love the french horn.

Next on the program was, From Yesterday to Penny Lane, a Beatles medley sort of thing by Leo Brouwer which I'd never heard before. Since Brouwer is one of the foremost living composers for the guitar, the guitar parts were excellent! I was really impressed that the piece started with a fugato on Eleanor Rigby but disappointed that the movements weren't connected without pause. There was a scordatura re-tuning in the middle - again, distracting - so I guess that would have been impossible. And again, the crowd loved it, so I'm probably being overly picky.

After the intermission, Dr. Dunne returned with a full orchestra to play Ponce's Concierto del Sur, which is a highly ambitious undertaking for any guitarist. He played it well, but not with the kind of abandoned bravura I think the piece deserves (Yes, yes: Too much to ask, and no, I'd never attempt that piece on a dare for vast sums of money!). But, seriously, without the amplification, you wouldn't have been able to hear Matt at all for much of the piece. And yes, there was another scordatura in the piece. Arg.

Personally, and this is just me, I think this program supported my contention that the guitar is just a lousy concerto instrument, and is much better as a solo and chamber ensemble experience. Even with the chamber orchestra of only ten strings, the guitar was out of its element, and with the full orchestra, forget it. Like I say, just me.

Tonight is Isaac Bustos, by all accounts a brilliant young player, and I'm really looking forward to it. All solo guitar, but a program of nothing but dead guy music. What can you do? LOL!