February 5, 2018
Competitions play an important role in the development of classical musicians, and they inspire us to get acquainted with new artists. In recent years, the major event of this sort for classical guitarists has been the Guitar Foundation of America International Concert Artist Competition, and on Saturday evening at Foothill Presbyterian Church in San José, the South Bay Guitar Society presented the latest winner, Xavier Jara, born and raised the United States.
The concert began with two little known works by the Renaissance master John Dowland. The Fantasies P.5 and P.71 are dark-hued and mercurial and Jara took full dramatic advantage of the music’s constantly varying textures while keeping the intricate motivic development and points of imitation both emotionally intense and crystal clear. Unfortunately, his powerful interpretation was marred by an out-of-tune instrument.
Next were two delightful miniatures: Les Barricades Mystérieuses by François Couperin and Mysterious Habitats by Dušan Bogdanović. The title of Couperin’s delightful work has been said to refer to the effect of the work’s regular melodic hesitations, to the customs of courtship, and even, as Jara informed us, to women’s eyelashes, which can prevent us from seeing her eyes.
Bogdanović was inspired by the propulsive interlocking patterns of Couperin’s work to create a contemporary composition that felt related to the patterns associated with the minimalism of Steve Reich. Jara gave compelling renditions, enhanced by a rich, full tone.
Initially inspired by the music of Bach as performed by Segovia, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote his capricious Variations Across the Centuries in 1932. Jara captured Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s impressions of Bach in a powerful Chaconne and a melancholy and occasionally improvisatory Preludio. He unhesitatingly followed Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s surprising stylistic shift with three waltzes in the style of Johann Strauss, which led into a foxtrot.
There were several changes to the program that I found disappointing. Isaac Albéniz’ Córdoba and Cataluña, Jeremy Collins’s Elegy, Stephen Goss’s Labyrinth, and Dušan Bogdanović’s Sonata 3 were not performed even though they were advertised in the publicity material announcing the concert The addition of Les Barricades Mystérieuses and Mysterious Habitats, though delightful, felt like insufficient compensation. Bogdanović and Goss are two of the most accomplished composers for guitar writing today and many eagerly anticipate their new works. It would be nice if performers and presenters gave that more consideration. [Note: Mr. Jara has informed us that the program changes were submitted but not able to be processed by the volunteer staff in time. — Editor]
I have studied the score of Collins’s Elegy, which looks like an inventive piece. I enjoyed a YouTube performance of it and was sorry not to have heard it performed live. Collins’ Snehurka, Denis Mortagne’s Jeff Buckley Requiem, and Graeme Koehne’s A Closed World of Fine Feelings of Grand Design were all less substantial works which fit the stereotype of new-age music.
The concert ended on a high point with Judicael Perroy’s transcription of Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins, Op. 3, No. 9, itself based on Johann Sebastian Bach’s arrangement for harpsichord. Guitarists have long performed Bach’s cello and lute suites as well as the violin sonatas and partitas but have only recently begun exploring Bach’s keyboard works. Bach’s Concerto No.1 in D Major, BWV 972 is alternately exuberant and tender, and Jara brought out its many moods and as well as the youthful exuberance of Bach’s obviously wholehearted enthusiasm for Vivaldi’s musical innovations.
The South Bay Guitar Society admirably offers occasional prelude performances by local students. This evening began with a lively and skillful performance of the Alla Cubana and Allegro from William Walton’s Five Bagatelles by 13-year-old Eric Junyang Wang, a prizewinning guitar student at the California Conservatory of Music.