Ethan Boyers, Reade Park, Scott Cmiel, Emilia Díaz Delgado, and Trent Park
Left to right: Ethan Boyers, Reade Park, Scott Cmiel, Emilia Díaz Delgado, and Trent Park at the SF Conservatory of Music | Credit: Lester Lee

A few Christmases ago, composer and guitarist Matthew Cmiel came up with a unique gift for his father Scott Cmiel, director of the precollege guitar program at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. It was a transcription for guitar quartet of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101.

“I’ve never had a better present in my life,” chuckles the elder Cmiel, over lattes in a Cole Valley cafe. He’ll be sharing it with audiences at an Omni Foundation concert dubbed “The Young Virtuosos” on Jan. 21 at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco. The performance will feature four of Cmiel’s SFCM precollege students, who’ll also be showcased in solo offerings: Reade Park (age 18). Ethan Boyers (17), Trent Park (15), and Emilia Díaz Delgado (13).

The quartet setting of the sonata will display “the depth of their musicianship,” Cmiel believes. He recalls a conversation with William Kanengiser, a founder of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, who told him, “Playing solo guitar is what made me an outstanding guitarist, but playing in a chamber music group is what made me a musician.”

Ethan Boyers
Ethan Boyers | Courtesy of SFCM Precollege Guitar Program

All four of the concert’s performers did well in highly competitive national events during 2022. In the finals of the James Stroud Classical Guitar Competition at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Reade Park won second prize, and Boyers won third; Trent Park was a semifinalist. First and fourth prizes, respectively, went to Eric Wang and Elle Davisson, who appeared in Omni’s inaugural Young Virtuosos concert a year ago. At the Guitar Foundation of America International Youth Competition, held at the University of Indianapolis, Díaz Delgado placed second (behind Davisson) in the junior division, and Reade Park and Boyers placed first and second in the senior division.

The four “virtuosos” are among the 26 students currently enrolled in the SFCM precollege guitar program, whose faculty also includes Theresa Calpotura, Scott Gossage, Jon Mendle, Mark Simons, and Ross Thompson. “Each one of us has fantastic and different skills,” says Cmiel, “and we each coach a different guitar quartet. All the students are also in the [SFCM Precollege] Guitar Orchestra,” which opened the Sérgio Assad 70th Birthday Celebration concert at the school last November with a live performance of Assad’s Kaleidokithara, originally composed for an all-star group of adult virtuosos during the pandemic. The teen students also get ear training and study musicianship, music theory, and beginning composition and participate in master classes under the aegis of the SFCM Guitar Department.

Cmiel intends to open the Omni concert with the third and fourth movements of the Beethoven “quartet.” “Many people call it the Piano Sonata No. 28, but I don’t like doing that,” he says. “Guitarists in general don’t play Beethoven because he often feels pianistic, but Matt thought it would be good for guitar. The third movement starts with this misterioso, goes to an incredibly tender thing, then returns to the mystery, with long trills going on for ages and ages. It then slams into the fourth movement, which is incredibly contrapuntal, which is nice for guitar quartet because everybody gets a different voice. The development is a fugue. So it shows both the independence of the players and their ability to listen to each other.”

Trent Park
Trent Park | Courtesy of SFCM Precollege Guitar Program

Trent Park will be the first featured soloist, in two movements of Bach’s D Major Concerto, [BWV 972], “basically copied” by the composer from a Vivaldi violin concerto and set for solo harpsichord. “It was arranged by Judicaël Perroy when he was on the Conservatory’s guitar faculty,” Cmiel notes. “He very kindly gave us this arrangement before it was published, and he did a bunch of master classes with us. And Trent went to France last summer to study with him.

“Ethan Boyers will perform next, and he’s playing a Bach fugue, from the Lute Suite in C Minor, [BWV 997], arranged by Frank Koonce. Ethan has such wonderful control. You hear every voice perfectly, his articulation is great, and he gets the emotion.” With an eye to the Bach requirement for the Stroud Competition, Cmiel had set up a master class on the composer for his precollege students with David Tanenbaum, the head of the SFCM Guitar Department and “one of guitar’s greatest Bach interpreters.”

Boyers will also perform Roland Dyens’s arrangement of the Seymour Simons jazz favorite “All of Me.” “Ethan is a natural with jazz; he plays it in school at the Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa.

Reade Park
Reade Park | Courtesy of SFCM Precollege Guitar Program

“Reade Park will be playing Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight,’ also arranged by Dyens. I shared a video of Reade’s performance with a major jazz guitarist, and he said, ‘Wow!’ But Reade will be starting his part of the Omni concert with the fourth movement of the Guitar Sonata by Antonio José. He was a disciple of [Maurice] Ravel, but not a lot of people know about José because he was executed in the Spanish Civil War. Reade chose this, and I think it’s good for students to think about the lives of the composers, especially in classical music. Music isn’t a world apart; it’s part of the world.”

Cmiel feels that those who heard Park at St. Mark’s a year ago will perceive his development, “and I think it’s related to this José sonata. Reade has been attracted to showpieces, but he’s understanding that some music is very deep and complex, and he’s a much more profound musician. He’s been very seriously studying composition [with Robert Chastain and Matthew Cmiel], and he recently won the Kris Getz Composition Competition at the Conservatory for a work he wrote for solo flute.”

Emilia Díaz Delgado, the youngest of the “virtuosos,” will perform Sun Wukong’s Toccata, dedicated by composer Sérgio Assad to Meng Su, the newest addition to the SFCM guitar faculty. Cmiel “wanted a good excuse for Emilia to work with Meng,” and arranged a one-on-one study session for them. “Emilia idolizes Meng, and I wanted Meng to be as hard-nosed as possible with this little girl because I think that’s what she needs. Emilia has always had a good feeling for the big picture, and now she’s more and more attuned to every detail.”

The Toccata is based on a mythical monkey character from Chinese literature, and Assad is currently composing a piece for Díaz Delgado, to be included in a video series about women and guitar. The young guitarist, who came to the U.S. from Mexico as a preteen, has also been working with the nonprofit San Francisco Art & Film Program and is auditioning to study filmmaking at the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, though she’ll continue to study and perform on her instrument.

Emilia Díaz Delgado
Emilia Díaz Delgado | Courtesy of SFCM Precollege Guitar Program

All of Cmiel’s students will be showcased at SFCM recitals and concerts in March and May, but he appreciates the special opportunities offered by the Omni Foundation, from students opening for visiting professionals to the annual “virtuoso” showcases. “We have our own audiences at the Conservatory, but that’s not the same as Omni’s general audience,” he points out. “Omni has always been doing something for all kids; they’ve offered free tickets to students K-12, and that helps grow the audience. And my kids get very excited about appearing with Omni. They think, ‘This is the same concert series that David Russell plays in!’ It’s very motivational.”

For the next concert in its main series, Omni will present Croatian guitar virtuoso and competition champion Zoran Dukić at St. Mark’s on Jan. 28.