Los Angeles Guitar Quartet Offered Unique Flavor to JSO Concert

The concert at the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra this past weekend was filled with Mexican (and Russian) flavor. A guest appearance by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet offered a unique variation to what one might otherwise expect at a symphony concert.

From the moment LAGQ walked onto the stage and readied their guitars for Joaquín Rodrigo’s (1901-1999) Concierto Andaluz for Four Guitars and Orchestra, one could tell this was going to be a cool piece. The orchestration is simple, with a focus on the guitar and minimal strings, woodwinds and brass. The guitar is a highlight and for those that may not “get into” a symphony, this is exceptional in that it offers something more familiar to the ear and is like the wine that is suited to the meal.

Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (photo: courtesy of Jacksonville Symphony)

Food analogy aside, LAGQ is a group of seasoned musicians that brought “Concierto” to life.

The piece itself, written by a composer blinded from diphtheria at the age of three, is full of Mexican piquancy.

The first movement, “Tiempo de Bolero,” is convivial and might be suited for dancing with its upbeat sounds protruding from the stage.

The second movement, “Adagio,” is a bit more subdued, yet reflects a deeper, passionate tone. There’s a moment when the orchestra pauses and allows the guitars to showcase their capabilities. For anyone familiar with the guitar, you know the range of possibilities it offers in the way of sound and expression. To listen to the classical guitars, especially for Rodrigo’s composition, it’s as breathtaking as viewing a sunset for the first time. The orchestra returns slowly and enhances the guitars’ voices and puts the listener in a state of euphoria.

The third movement, “Allegretto,” has a similar flavor as the first. The tempo picks up and gives it a spritely air.

Though the music was more mellow than “traditional” classical music, LAGQ delighted the audience nonetheless, and the quartet returned with an encore of “Danza ritual del guego” (Ritual Fire Dance), a movement from the ballet El amor brujo (or roughly, The Magic Love, The Love Magician), by Manuel de Falla.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) Symphony No. 5 in E minor, op. 64 was the final piece in the program. He wrote the symphony following three years of little creativity. He had been lamenting over the dismal reception of Manfred symphony and slowed in his writing.

The first movement of his fifth, “Andante—Allegro con anima,” begins with the clarinets sort of brooding, which sets the theme for the entire symphony, before the violins and brass come charging in to break up the melancholy tone.

The understood premise of this symphony is “fate,” but the second movement, “Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza,” must fall more into the romantic, jubilant leitmotif. The lushness of the strings, the breath of the woodwinds, give this movement a more blissful feel. As with many love stories, there is a brusqueness toward the end before it delves into the soft melody once again. It reminds one of the love/hate/love relationship.

Tchaikovsky is a master at writing ballet compositions (Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutrcaker) and in the third movement, “Allegro moderato,” his talent for the dance is showcased with a waltz-like tone.

The fourth and final movement, “Finale: Andante maestoso—Allegro vivace,” is the most energetic than the previous movements. The conductor and orchestra get a workout from the vigorous string-playing to the pounding of the drums to the blasts of the trombones. It’s as if the composer is striking back at society with a triumphant masterpiece. Toward the end, there is a slight pause, a breath, before the orchestra stalks in again, as if Tchaikovsky was saying: “I’m not finished. There is more to say to you.” And he kept marching.

What about you? What has been your experience with the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Rodrigo or Tchaikovsky?

Upcoming Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra concert:
Nov. 3 – 5, 2011

Sibelius’ Second Symphony
Tan Dun: Dragon and Phoenix Overture
Dvořák: Violin Concerto
Chloë Hanslip
Sibelius: Symphony No. 2

Upcoming Los Angeles Guitar Quartet concerts:
Oct. 19, 2011

The Sheldon
St. Louis, Mo.

Oct. 21, 2011
McCain Auditorium—KSU
Manhattan, Kan.





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