Note to coastal plain music lovers: Those seeking respite from July’s summer heat can choose no better shelter than East Carolina’s A.J. Fletcher Recital Hall during evening recitals of the 15th Annual Summer Guitar Workshop. In fact, based on attendance, word is out that these concerts are eminently worthwhile, heat and humidity not withstanding.
The vitality at the concert venue was fueled by the goings on at this center of the classical guitar subculture – one overheard speculations about the week’s ongoing competitions (a seemingly ubiquitous feature of the classical guitar world), happy camaraderie as old friends reconnected, young musicians air playing, talk about fingernails and scordatura, and tables filled with guitar books and CDs.
The up-and-coming duo of Isaac Bustos and Mitch Weverka, members of this year’s faculty and past winners of the workshop’s Guitar Competition, began their performance with Nocturno No. 3, Op. 143, by Ferdinando Carulli (1770-1841). Their careful attention to dynamics in particular yielded an engaging performance of the work. Following two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) the duo concluded with a sparkling performance of Tango Suite by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). The lively Allegro was offset by the jazz-colored harmonies of the Andante, and the closing Allegro was a tour de force of complex rhythms and technique. Isaac Bustos and Mitch Weverka made it all look easy, a true mark of performing excellence.
At intermission, luthier Jason Pickard, ECU guitar performance alumnus, presented workshop artistic director Dr. Elliot Frank with a custom made guitar. The instrument was given by alumni and friends to commemorate Frank’s twentieth year as professor of guitar at ECU.
Renowned guitarist and returning workshop faculty member Jason Vieaux opened his portion of the program with the Grand Overture, op. 61 by Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829). It is no wonder Vieaux has experienced considerable professional success; the entire performance spoke refinement — from polished guitar to Gallic profile and, of foremost importance, impeccable musicality and technique. Two twentieth-century compositions were the centerpieces of his program, Leo Brouwer’s (b.1939) El Decamerón Negro and Quatre Pieces Breves by Frank Martin (1890-1974). Vieaux introduced Brouwer’s multi-movement work by telling the African legend on which it is based, and the ghosts of the Warrior and the Lovely Maiden seemed to come alive onstage as he played.
In Quatre Pieces Breves Martin combines elements of the Baroque dance suite with serial procedures. Combined with Vieaux’s masterful interpretation, the harmonies were a refreshingly beautiful blend of the tonal and atonal worlds. Vieaux ended with "Soleá" by Julián Arcas (1832-1882). Once again rhythms and melodies conjured up ghostly traces, a dancer, her brightly colored trajes de faraleas swirling in time to the music.
For a few brief moments the audience was transfixed by the music and the solitary figure onstage, eyes closed, the ancient minstrel brought to life. What better summer hiatus could be devised? For those who missed this year’s workshop recitals, there is hope that all this will take place again, same time next year.