Georgia Guitar Quartet
Guitar Foursome Shines with Diverse Adaptations
Palm Beach Life, March 08, 2007, Charles Freeman
The guitar quartet is a relatively recent phenomenon in the annals of chamber music, certainly not one to be found when Henry Flagler was building his mansion on what we know today as Palm Beach. Nonetheless, when the Georgia Guitar Quartet let loose with its high-spirited and musically adventurous program Tuesday in the Flagler Museum, one hopes Mr. Flagler would have gotten a kick out of it.
The Georgia Guitar Quartet — composed of Kyle Dawkins, Brian Smith, Philip Snyder, and Jason Solomon — came together as University of Georgia students. Their Flagler Museum program stuck mostly to transcriptions of pre-20th century works, yet the program was as lively and varied as any new-music concert.
Both halves of the program featured dances from the collection Michael Praetorius’ Terpsichore, one of the highly prolific musical masters of early German Baroque. Praetorius compiled examples of dances from across Europe, which work extremely well in transcription for guitar; the light and elegant music suited for dance steps rewarded the elegant and refined style of the quartet. Similarly, the pre-Classic Quartet in D by Georg Philipp Telemann (originally for the unusual combination of four violins) shone in the hands of the quartet.
Other winning adaptations for guitar quartet followed, with Chopin’s Etude, Opus 10 No. 3, perhaps surprising listeners with its ready adaptation to the format, while Domenice Scarlatti’s The Cat’s Fugue, allegedly based on a theme created when a cat walked across the composer’s keyboard, proved clever and elegant.
The guitar has long been connected with the music of Spain, so perhaps it is not surprising that the two composers connected with that country, Enriclue Granados and the Classic-era Madrid resident Luigi Boccherini, shone most brightly. Granados did not typically write for guitar, but his Oriental dance from Danzas Españolas showed every bit as much the idioms of his native country that influenced guitar music as it did any Asian influences. Boccherini wrote his Introduction and Fandango for guitar and string quartet, and the relatively easy transition to guitar quartet let the rhythmic vigor of the peculiarly Spanish dance explode as the first half of the program drew to a close.
Preceding the Praetorius set after intermission was a transcription of Fugue No. 4 from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, the cruciform theme of which permeated the quartet texture with particular clarity and interpretive power. Perhaps the only false note of the evening came in two excerpts from Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. The Pavane for the Sleeping Beauty came across with quiet elegance, but Empress of the Pagedes lost too much in the transition from piano to orchestra to guitar quartet, despite fine and energetic playing.
Three transcriptions from Edvard Grieg worked extremely well, as the Two Elegaic Melodies and Anitra’s Dance from Peer Gynt became extremely moving in this format.
The concert ended with member Kyle Dawkins’s arrangement of an Irish folk song, The Road to Lisdoonvarna, with guitars used as both melodic and percussion instruments in the manner of a modern Celtic band. Perhaps the piece itself was not period-specific for Flagler’s Whitehall, but the use of folk music in classical composition was all the rage in that day, from Eastern Europe all the way to America, so perhaps Mr. Flagler could find a way to appreciate the finale, as well as the all-around winning effort from the Georgia Guitar Quartet.
String Fever Cleans Up at Cerritos
Cerritos Ink, May 13, 2006, BF Glen Creason
Reviews of shows from the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts published by the Los Cerritos Community News. The writer and paper are in their twelfth year of covering these events.
“String Fever” was the tongue in cheek name placed upon a joint concert of the Georgia Guitar Quartet and the Santa Fe Guitar Quartet at the Performing Arts Center on Friday night. Despite the levity of the appellation this evening was seriously excellent in all its parts. It was a performance for connoisseurs of classical guitar for sure but challenging to the performers and mind-expanding for the erudite audience in many ways. Both groups offered highly disciplined musicianship and marvelously disparate sources of composition making for delight on both ends of the show.
The festivities were opened by the startlingly youthful Georgia Guitar Quartet who seemed very focused but very much in tune with each other’s parts of the ensemble. This was classical guitar playing with the fingers, no fiat-picking or folksy improvisation. There was very little strumming of chords and pretty strict adherence to the composer’s intent. The difficulty comes with playing together but not over each other and blending differing tones into a flowing body of sound.
The first composition, “Flight” was by a member, Kyle Dawkins and utilized varying techniques that produced a tapestry of unusual sounds forming an intricate but riveting narrative. The crowd was already siring up and listening but the young men showed off their mastery of the guitars in gliding through a gorgeous set of Renaissance dances by Michael Praetorious including the brisk and joyful “Bransic Double” that reached through the five centuries beautifully.
Ravel’s “Empress of the Pagodas” once more showed an amazing variety of tone and a trio of Danzas Argentinas by Alberto Ginastera was contemporary sounding yet deliciously Spanish in the melody. The group showed a sense of humor in the textured, jocular reading of Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” and played their finest together on the demanding Fugue no. 4 from the Well-Tempered Claylet by Bach. One of the evening” s highlights was the lone pop sounding “Sketches” by Brian Smith which was colorful and evocative, followed by a nod to their Southern roots in a fun, bluegrass “dueling double guitars?” The Georgians finished with some stately Boccherini and a souped up Irish traditional dulcimer rune “the Road to Lisdoonvarna” which was spirited and bright.
Mosaic is a major contemporary classical work. By way of uncommon heart, soul, intelligence, and flair the Georgia Guitar Quartet is a premiere performing ensemble. The album showcases their incredible range and interactive singleness from the late romantic period through 20th century compositions. Selections by Chopin, Ginastera, Grieg, Milhaud and Ravel play alongside a rousing Irish folksong and an original set by quartetter Jason Solomon, Kyle Dawkins, Brian Smith and Phil Snyder for this beautiful statement of purpose, recorded for Solponticello by Erik Hinds at Hindsight Studios.
The Georgia Guitar Quartet has established itself as a new leader in the realm of guitar ensembles. The group is part of the new generation of innovative performing artists who are changing the face of classical music. Formed in 1996 and hailing from Athens, Georgia, the quartet has released three recordings and is currently completing work on one new CD to be released in the fall by Solponticello Records. The ensemble maintains an active national concert schedule, performing in a variety of venues, ranging from concert halls to popular music clubs. A typical GGQ concert will feature moving performances coupled with enthusiastic audience interaction. Passion, flair, sensitivity and humor are characteristic qualities of every GGQ concert. In addition to performing classical music from the Renaissance through the present day, the Quartet explores other styles such as jazz, bluegrass, ragtime, and Celtic music. As a result of their diverse repertoire, the group appeals to a wide range of music lovers.
The Quartet performs regularly throughout the United States. One review of their 1999 Piccolo Spoleto Festival performance in Charleston, South Carolina, described the concert as “as dazzling display of technical prowess, versatile programming, and audience rapport.” In 2001, the Quartet was invited by Christopher Parkening to perform as the guest artists at his 27th annual masterclass in Bozeman, Montana.
Pieces performed on the “Mosaic” CD: