Music that can change the world, but there's no money: Sound familiar? The Pacific Guitar Ensemble, an eight-man group of some of the Bay Area’s best classical guitarists, was in the midst of recording their debut CD, Begin, but lacked the funding when Omni Foundation’s Richard Patterson came up with a solution — play the Green Room for Omni on Oct. 27.
“I was left with a hole in the schedule — I had already paid for the concert hall, already sent out the brochures, already sold tickets — and I wasn’t sure how I was going to fill this hole,” said Richard Patterson, founder and director of Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts. “Then I received an e-mail from the Pacific Guitar Ensemble, asking for help with their Kickstarter program, which is basically an e-mail that goes out to anyone who might be interested. They were trying to record and they were trying to raise $5,000 to pay for this CD of music they were going to be performing.”
With a last-minute Omni cancellation — unbeknownst to the ensemble — and a recording project that required as many as 11 players on a track, PGE launched its Kickstarter campaign in July, hoping to reach its goal a month later. After telling their whole life story in 135 characters or less and a conversation with Patterson, a guitarist in his own right, the Omni founder decided to go for the highest reward offered: a concert by the group at a local venue of choice and an Italian dinner for 10 prepared by the ensemble cofounder, Peppino D’Agostino, with help from the group.
“When you do Kickstarter, you put ‘If you donate $10, you get a CD. If you donate $25, you get a signed CD.’ That kind of thing. The highest level they asked for was $2,500, and for $2,500 you got a concert by the group anywhere in the Bay Area and dinner for 10 prepared by members of the group,” said Patterson. “It seemed like a win-win situation and they were thrilled because it put them over the top for their campaign and allowed them the funding to do their CD. Plus it gave a nice cap to [their] tour in downtown S.F. So, really, everybody was happy.”
“It seemed like a win-win situation and they were thrilled because it put them over the top for their campaign and allowed them the funding to do their CD.” – Richard Patterson, Omni Foundation
Yet even that wasn’t as simple as it sounded.
“Actually, it wasn’t quite as easy as We had the night [free]. One of the guys has an afternoon concert that day and had to call and try to move it a little earlier. He’s probably going to miss the sound check. Another guy was going to be part of a national tour doing something else, and he decided that this concert and another offer that he had gotten were so much more important that he canceled the other tour,” said David Tanenbaum, PGE cofounder and chair of the guitar department at San Francisco Conservatory. “It was not so easy to get eight people free, but we kind of pushed some things [aside] and found a way to do it.”
PGE was formed in 2010, but its members — David Tanenbaum, Peppino D’Agostino, Marc Teicholz, Lawrence Ferrara, Michael Bautista, Jon Mendle, Paul Psarras, and Antoniy Kakamakov — are by no means newbies to the Bay Area guitar community. In addition to D’Agostino’s signature steel strings, group members play multiple instruments, ranging from acoustic bass (upright) to oud to the recently invented hybrid shazouki.
Three are S.F. Conservatory faculty, and four are alumni of the conservatory. But all eight of them have seen first-hand how technology affects the classical guitar scene. Even though many people can now access guitar luminary Andrés Segovia’s music as easily as opening their phone, Tanenbaum didn’t think technology diminished the classical guitar in any way. In fact, he thought just the opposite.
“There’s something that really attracts people about the kind of natural beauty of the guitar. And then I think you have to factor in that it’s the greatest crossover instrument of our time.” – David Tanenbaum, Pacific Guitar Ensemble
“Part of the attraction to the guitar is how nonmechanical it is. How you have someone touching the strings with both hands — just touching them — and there’s very little mechanism. If you watch a piano concert, you have someone hitting a key which then hits a hammer,” said Tanenbaum. “There’s something about this day and age, which is so electronic and full of mechanism, that really attracts people about the kind of natural beauty of the guitar. And then I think you have to factor in that it’s the greatest crossover instrument of our time. There are more people that play guitar in the world than any other instrument.”
The Oct. 27 concert in the Green Room will feature compositions by Sergio Assad, Peppino D’Agostino, and San Francisco composer Belinda Reynolds. PGE’s debut album, titled after a piece by Reynolds, is under way and is going clear and strong. Its release date is yet to be announced but Tanenbaum assured SFCV it would be done by the first concert of their minitour on Oct. 17. And after all their effort, Tanenbaum hopes people will come and enjoy their unique sound.
“Well, I would just like [people] to listen to us and for the reason I think they will hear just an exciting blend of [guitar] sounds unlike anything they’ve heard before,” said Tanenbaum. “It’s just a thrilling sound. So, I just hope people come out to listen to it.”