If anyone were looking for a lesson in professional musicianship, this concert was an excellent example. First, the rules: you start on time, you play for whomever is there, you play regardless of the conditions, you play the entire published program, and you make nice-nice afterward.
Carlos Pérez, the huge talent emerging from Chile, put on a clinic in Saluda's Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration on July 21. About twenty people were in a hall that seats eighty. Being a warm and muggy July night, all the windows and doors were open to promote ventilation. That helped, but in turn this allowed the commercial lawn tractor and string trimmer working one block away to compete with song birds at twilight while the temperature hovered around 80. I've played in this venue, and there is always some little quirk to make a concert interesting. In my case, it was a train climbing the famous Saluda grade that sounded its whistle during Leo Brouwer's "Canticum." Some would later say that improved the piece....
Pérez brought a full-length formal program that contained nothing written earlier than 1850. He opened with Trois Morceaux, Op. 65, by Johann Kasper Mertz (1806-56), three stylistically-similar, virtuosic, large-scale, and fully-idiomatic 19th-century romantic works that exploit all the conventional strengths of the guitar.
Next came three pieces by one of the first early-20th-century guitar scholars of Spain, Emilio Pujol (1886-1980): Cubana, Schottish Madrileño, and Seguidillas. As expected, these trended toward a more academic application of Spanish musical traits, but they were still interesting pieces.
Next came the Variations on Punto Guanacasteco by the great South American 19th-20th-century guitarist Agustin Barrios Mangore (1885-1944). This is a new work for my ears, but it is cut from the same virtuoso cloth Barrios used to create his great valses and the "Sueño en la Floresta." The theme is built on a rhythmic idea we hear throughout the dozen or so variants of scales, dotted figures, arpeggios, thirds, harmonics, and repeated notes, with a lyric adagio and a dotted bass melody with treble flourishes. Also, there is one spectacular variation performed only with the left hand! Throughout this fresh and optimistic score, Pérez relished in the demanding score with fluid movements of great distance and exciting, faultless scales at one point approaching the string's terminal velocity.
At intermission, we barely had a chance to catch our breath before Pérez was back on stage, smiling and tearing into four traditional folk tune arrangements of his native Chile: "Tonada," a melancholy song, "Para Bien," a wedding song, "Entonación," a special melody used for improvisation, and "Sajuriana," a graceful dance.
American Jeffrey Van (b.1941) came next, with "Light and Shadow," in three movements. Van is a guitarist and member of the faculty at the University of Minnesota. This work is virtuosic and interesting, but I would like to hear it again before passing further comment. For me it was just out of reach except for the concluding Moto Perpetuo, which Pérez dispatched with ease. The program ended with five pieces by Venezuela's Antonio Lauro (1917-86), famous for fascinating waltzes of such rhythmic vitality it's hard to know when he's working a hemiola puzzle. These pieces offered a labyrinth of polyphony and counterpoint which Pérez executed in an untroubled manner.
Using a twenty-fret Contreras guitar, all of this music was delivered in a fine state of finish with abundant technique, wonderful effortless speed when required, and a good sense of poetic license. At first I thought Pérez belonged to the class of players known for playing only tirando (free stroke) in the right hand, but on closer examination this proved not to be true. Addition of the apoyando (rest stroke), favored by Francisco Tarrega, Miguel Llobet and Andres Segovia, often results in a distinctive hand position, and there is often a change of sound when alternating between these two techniques. Pérez does have and uses the apoyando stroke, but there is no aural distinction to it, and there is a tendency for changes in dynamics to be simply softer and not quite as loud as the previous segment.
Fully soaked from the workout and humidity, he bid the standing crowd Good Night with a smile and no encore, then slipped next door to the cooler reception area to sign CDs and autograph programs. In all, he played four programs in this region, very tightly spaced, and then flew on to Cincinnati, where he is appearing at the 22nd Annual Classical Guitar Workshop at the College-Conservatory of University of Cincinnati.