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The conjoined buildings that house the Knight Theater and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art have become staging areas for a new kind of free-form concert event. Most of the buzz about these innovative events has gone to Charlotte Symphony Orchestra and its KnightSound series. Justifiably so, for KnightSounds has utilized a variety of media and venues to augment concerts in its namesake theater after hors-d’oeuvres mixers served up in the lobby, utilizing the Bechtler, the neighboring Mint Museum, and even the Levine Avenue of the Arts to further enrich the concertgoing experience. By comparison, concert series produced by the Bechtler Museum are more intimate, more frequent, more eclectic, and more serious-minded. The latest in the Modern Mondays series, “A Taste of Spain,” executed its theme in three parts: wine and tapas, a presentation on Picasso and bullfighting by Concepción B. Godev, and a solo guitar recital by Aris Quiroga, including original compositions by the guitarist.
Tapas could be charitably described as disappointing, particularly if you didn’t arrive early before the cold cuts disappeared. So when we adjourned from a nook in the second-floor gallery to a compact lecture room down the hall, we actually got a meatier taste of Spain from UNC Charlotte professor Godev as she showed us photos of Picasso in a montera, or matador’s hat, and the “Suit of Lights” that he designed for a famed matador friend. Godev’s talk was actually more pertinent to the exhibit of Picasso lithographs in another sector of the second floor than to the music that would follow, which was not disappointing at all. Imposing false or tenuous connections between a painter (or a sculptor) and a composer wastes time that would be better spent informing us about one or both of the contemporaries.
Quiroga was somewhat diffident as a presenter – understandably, because the Colombia native struggles a little with his English – but he’s more than sufficiently expressive as a performer. Strums, tremolos, and finger work were all immaculately clean, with phrases that accumulate wavelike shapes, enhanced by a discreet application of vibrato from the left hand. Gently amplified, the program began with a pair of compositions by Francisco Tárrega, “Lagrima” and the more familiar “Adelita.” Compared with my recordings by Julian Bream and Angel Roméro, I found the same winsome lilt on “Adelita,” but Quiroga’s sound wasn’t quite as bright or wistful. Perhaps the slightly darker tone is the result of Quiroga’s preference for a flamenco guitar, slightly smaller than the classical models most concert guitarists play. When Quiroga prevailed upon himself to project, his introductions were useful and illuminating. I’d never known that Tárrega invented the foot stand that is used almost universally by classical guitarists.
A foray into high-tech marred Quiroga’s presentation of one of his own compositions, “Leila.” The pre-recorded percussion accompaniment by Jim Brock was not sufficiently amplified to add its intended impact and flavor. On the contrary, effort required to hear the soundtrack became a distraction. The guitarist’s other compositions, “Suspiro” (or “Sigh”) and “Moroccan Forest,” were better enticements to explore more of Quiroga’s writing – and to hear “Leila” as it was conceived. This Modern Mondays concert also introduced me to “Zapateado” by Raul Nieto, another composer I’d like to explore further. Then in his closing selection, Quiroga reintroduced me to an old friend, the anonymously written “Romance.” I probably hadn’t heard this Jack Marshall arrangement of an old Spanish folk melody since I last spun my vinyl recording of it by Christopher Parkening on his Romanza album. It was probably the most technically demanding piece of the concert, demonstrating the guitar’s ability to deliver a beautiful yearning melody while supplying its own richly arpeggiated accompaniment. Quiroga played it flawlessly, poignantly waltzing the 3/4 tempo.