He was not on the original list of performers, but young guitarist Adam Kossler, who studied at ECU and has competed and performed here previously, proved to be an accomplished guest musician, showing considerable elegance and artistry in helping open the 18th annual East Carolina University Summer Guitar Festival. Kossler's teacher at ECU, Elliot Frank, called on him to substitute when one of the members of the Akerman Teixeria Duo had to cancel because of illness. The result was a varied program of well-played solo guitar pieces from several centuries.
Kossler, who teaches in Northern Virginia when he is not performing, opened with a Passacaglia in D by Sylvius Leopold Weiss, a contemporary of J.S. Bach. This is a lovely piece, flowing with arpeggios, and it was played effortlessly. A similarly lovely selection built on arpeggios and repeated four-note phrases was "La Margheritina" by an associate of Kossler, Miroslav Loncar.
Tarrega's "Capricho Arabe" was the set's most familiar piece, and Kossler gave a fine performance, not too rushed. And he showed fine fingering on Tarrega's "Gran Vals."
A composer one does not usually find in a guitar recital would be Jean Sibelius, but Kossler provided his own arrangement of "In a Mournful Mood," from Five Characteristic Impressions, Op. 103, a set of piano miniatures, and "Eklogue," Op. 74/1, also a solo piano composition. The former has an exotic sound and particularly dramatic bass string lines. The latter is much longer and has a more impressionistic feeling, but with a delicate main theme.
Kossler closed his program with "Fantasia Brillante," Op. 19, by Luigi Legnani, an early 19th century composer, and it was quite the brilliant piece, a showcase for several guitar techniques, starting with strummed chords and including impressive descending and ascending phrases (especially at the end), intense arpeggios, an interesting key change, and some martial-sounding music.
The evening program opened with a set by Frank, founder and artistic director of the festival; he chose selections from 20th century Latin American composers Antonio Lauro, Dilermando Reis, Radames Gnattali, and Heitor Villa-Lobos. The set offered a wide-ranging display of more modern guitar music, from the wistful "Se ela perguntar," a ballad by Reis, to the jazzy "Toccatta em ritmo de samba" by Gnattali. The counterpoint between bass and treble strings on the more traditional "El Nino" and "Maria Luisa" by Lauro were especially well handled.
The most challenging works in Frank's set – for performer and audience – were four of the 12 etudes by Villa-Lobos. This is composition filled with a variety of colors and moods, pulsing rhythms, industrial strength chords, unusual harmonies, nervous energy, and fairly untraditional scoring for solo guitar. Sort of like, well, etudes, or studies, often are. Frank showed many playing techniques on No. 11, with strummed bass string passages played against arpeggios in the treble strings, for example. And No. 12 seems to be one emphatic, continuous surge of rapid chords and fingering, not always melodic.
The first guest performer during the first afternoon of the festival was David Asbury, of the Southwestern University music faculty in Texas, who presented a program of his transcriptions of music by Irish harpist Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738). An interesting idea, generally well performed, but with a few lapses in execution. O'Carolan's music has since become almost synonymous with Irish harp music, but one also hears versions for solo guitar, for two instruments, and for small ensemble. Asbury played nearly 20 O'Carolan compositions, beginning with (appropriately enough) "Carolan's Welcome" and ending with (appropriately enough) "Farewell to Music." In between were, among others, a set of tunes written for patrons and a set of drinking songs. Just as in some Irish vocals, the melody lines for instrument often contain slurs (think "scoops" to get to the next note in some singing), which often add to the "Irish-ness" of the music.
Not all the rhythms were jigs and reels, as Asbury's choice of music mixed fast and slow tempi. In fact, the better songs seemed to be those in a more relaxed tempo: "Colonel O'Hara," for instance, has a stately feel, sounding almost like a minuet, and "Blind Mary" and "Carolan's Cup" have a slower ballad-like feeling. "Si Bheag Si Mor" is quite a lovely tune and received a good reading, with nice harmonics as part of the opening.
Perhaps the most familiar tune was "Carolan's Concerto," but, alas, Asbury's performance came up short of expectations, with some missed notes and some hesitations in playing that had the effect of throwing the rhythm off a bit.
This year's festival also was to include performances by Christopher Adkins, Silviu Ciulei, the Sharpe Zohn Duo and internationally known Jason Vieaux, a frequent guest performer in previous ECU festivals. (All the artists are profiled here.)
Note: Two concerts remain, both on July 15. Click here and here for details. A workshop also accompanies these concerts, prompting the chicken v. egg question: do the concerts inspire the workshop or vice-versa? For details, click here. It is – all told – just about the biggest thing in NC for classical guitarists and guitar fans.