From the September/October 2022 problem of Acoustic Guitar | By Mark Small
The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (LAGQ) is as famend for its virtuosity as for its adventurous musical programming. They don’t seem to be your typical classical ensemble. The quartet’s particular person members’ musical tastes cowl an unlimited spectrum. Whereas classical music (from the Renaissance to the current period) is the anchor style, the group’s influences add jazz, flamenco, people, bluegrass, rock, and world music to the combine.
Every member has burnished academic credentials and holds instructing posts at notable California universities, but they don’t herald intellectualism in the trendy music they play. Nor do they try for business attraction when incorporating in style music parts. The group is about honest, joyful music-making achieved with exacting precision whereas projecting heat and enthusiasm. The LAGQ additionally has a way of humor, as evidenced in the cheeky “Pachelbel’s ‘Unfastened’ Canon,” from their 1996 Baroque album For Thy Pleasure. It opens with a straight-faced assertion of the beloved theme earlier than taking it by way of hilarious and irreverent disco, rock, rumba, big-band, and different stylistic variations.
Now and Then
The group just lately marked 4 a long time of performing and recording collectively. So far, they’ve acquired three Grammy nominations and received the award for his or her 2005 album, Guitar Heroes. The ensemble shaped at the College of Southern California, the place unique members Invoice Kanengiser, John Dearman, Scott Tennant, and Anisa Angarola have been all college students of Pepe Romero of the famed Romero household guitar quartet. (Dearman had beforehand studied with Celín Romero, Pepe’s brother.) At USC, Dearman remembers, “I met Invoice, and we started taking part in duos. When Scott got here the subsequent yr , Pepe prompt we kind a quartet with Anisa.” “We assembled to play in Pepe’s masterclasses,” Tennant provides, “and have been thrilled to carry out his preparations of nice Spanish items.”
They glided by the generic moniker USC Guitar Quartet earlier than turning into the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet in 1982. “That was the yr we grew to become an expert group,” Kanengiser remembers. “We did our first tour in Mexico and obtained a supervisor. We launched our first album the subsequent yr.” In 1990, Angarola determined to pursue a special course and shaped her personal quartet. “Anisa is a good musician and guitarist,” Dearman provides. “We have been doing rather a lot of what the Romeros did—taking part in Spanish and different classical music. Invoice and I had a special musical introduction to the guitar with electrical guitars and steel-strings, and began exploring issues nearer to our roots. Our musical course modified.” Fellow USC alumnus Andrew York—who additionally had a various musical background—joined the group upon Angarola’s departure.
“When Andy joined, we determined to be our personal group, not only a second-best model of another person,” Tennant states. “He began writing, and for the years he was in the group, we performed a brand new piece by him each season.” York’s present for composing and arranging enhanced the ensemble’s distinctive identification.
After 16 years and the Grammy win (for Greatest Crossover Classical Album), York left to launch his personal profitable solo performing and composing profession. In 2006, Matthew Greif, a former scholar of Tennant and Kanengiser at USC, took York’s place. “It wasn’t an upheaval as a result of Matt’s taking part in may cowl the issues Andy did,” Dearman says. “His jazz taking part in is superb, he’s an amazing reader, and a very good arranger.” Greif made his recorded debut on the 2007 album LAGQ Brazil and seems on the group’s Interchange and New Renaissance CDs, plus LAGQ’s Ingenious Gentleman: Don Quixote DVD. The present lineup can also be featured on Pat Metheny’s 2021 Highway to the Solar album [see story in the July/August 2021 problem of AG] taking part in the five-movement title work commissioned by LAGQ.
Synthesis of Sound and Mild
April 2022 noticed the launch of Opalescent, the 16th album in the LAGQ catalog. The title displays the album’s dedication to the late Australian guitarist and composer Phillip Houghton. Described by his associates as a synesthete, Houghton perceived colours in musical notes and timbres. “Phillip’s Opals was the place to begin for this recording,” says Kanengiser. “We met Phillip years in the past in Sydney, and fell in love with this piece. After he handed, we thought it vital to honor his reminiscence on the recording. His two items [Opals and “Wave Radiance”] are the most overtly associated to sound and gentle. We really feel that each one the music on this file ultimately performs on this synthesis of sound and gentle.”
The actions of Houghton’s tripartite Opals have been impressed by completely different varieties of the gemstone. “Black Opal” options subdued however insistent rhythmic figures ricocheting between the gamers as the piece roams by way of minor-mode territory to a spot with glowing, multihued harmonies. The moody “Water Opal” is grounded in D minor and pushed by numerous percussive faucets and knocks, interspersed with bursts of colour in concerted traces harmonized with notes exterior the key. Harmonics seem all through like droplets of water that taper off at the finish of a rain bathe. “White Opal” is upbeat, powered largely by a midrange pedal tone, arpeggio accompaniment figures that break into melodic fragments, and chord clusters. It concludes on a triumphant A serious triad.
Apart from Opals, the album incorporates two different main choices—German guitarist-composer Tilman Hoppstock’s Suite Transcendent and Robert Beaser’s Chaconne—along with 5 shorter works. The Beaser piece contains 9 variations on a repeating passacaglia bass determine loosely primarily based on the descending line in Henry Purcell’s “Thy Hand Belinda,” an aria from the English Renaissance composer’s solely opera.
“It’s a fairly large and formidable work by a non-guitarist,” says Dearman, who votes it his favourite piece on the album. “It’s not what our quartet is normally recognized with, which is music that’s fairly approachable. I at all times discover one thing completely different in taking part in this piece. You may dig actually deeply and maintain discovering new issues.”
Kanengiser provides, “There are some neo-Baroque variations—one having French-overture points with its dotted notes. Some are jumpy, virtually pop-sounding variations. Some are expanded in a minimalist fashion. The final two have a world music really feel. The ultimate one is sort of a Cuban dance. Beaser throws in so many types.”
As for Suite Transcendent, Kanengiser explains that Hoppstock, who has composed in the Impressionist fashion beneath the non de plume Allan Wilcocks, “wrote a collection of preludes, etudes, and different works that have been superb. They appeared like items Debussy may have written for solo guitar. I requested him if ‘Allan’ may write a guitar quartet, and we obtained this five-movement piece impressed by an imaginary exhibition of Impressionist work.”
“We recorded it in 2017 for Tilman’s label,” Tennant provides, “and remastered it for this mission. There are very coloristic tones in his musical instructions in the rating. It’s very impressionistic music.” (On the album the piece is credited to Hoppstock, not Wilcocks.)
The primary motion, “Open Panorama,” is ethereal, with scampering whole-tone passages and pianistic figures orchestrated throughout the quartet. The temporary “La Grande Cathedrale” is notable for its darkish and dramatic chords and harmonics that arc upwards earlier than plateauing for a hushed end. Fittingly, “A Breath of Wind” has a full of life tempo, breezy really feel, and whole-tone motives. Its latter half offers nods towards Ravel’s “Empress of the Pagoda.” Kanengiser feels “La Porte du Ciel,” the fourth motion, is one of the most alluring: “It’s written virtually fully in harmonics and requires an odd tuning to provide them. It doesn’t sound like 4 guitars. To me, it virtually seems like a xylophone.” “Danza Diabolica” begins with vigorous antiphonal strumming and rapid-fire cross-string trills. Wealthy, strummed chords seem earlier than a fugal passage rises up from the low finish. Then, a collection of arpeggiated chords recalling Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” result in an emphatic concluding bass-note punctuation.
Frederic Hand’s “Chorale” started life as a bit for guitar orchestra earlier than Hand reworked it for the quartet. Hand has written that it “is impressed by the Renaissance and Baroque choral music that I listened to in my youth (particularly Bach’s chorales). Though I’ve built-in some of my favourite jazz harmonies and rhythms into the cloth of the music.” The opening theme has a reverent, vocal high quality and unfolds with pleasing harmonic shifts. As the piece evolves, it turns into decidedly guitaristic by way of pizzicato results and arpeggiated accompaniments, earlier than a serene ending.
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In “Alki Level,” composer Kevin Callahan creates an intricate texture with overlaid arpeggio patterns and melodies tossed between the gamers. A inventive interpolation of points of jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery’s tune “4 on Six” seems about two minutes in, highlighting an appreciation for jazz by each composer and performers.
Matthew Greif has lengthy been intrigued by Michael Hedges’ watershed acoustic guitar piece “Aerial Boundaries,” and organized it for the group. “I at all times thought it will be an amazing live performance opener for the quartet,” Greif says. “The vitality, crispness, and innovation in it are gorgeous.” Whereas Hedges performed melodic fragments, bass notes, chordal accompaniment, sweeps of harmonics, and percussive tapping on a single guitar, it turns into expansive on 4. Greif divvied up the unique components and added a brand new part. “The blokes thought it was good to cowl what Michael performed, however felt I ought to add one thing to present us extra of a purpose to play it,” Greif notes. He used Hedges’ materials and wrote a contrapuntal episode that precedes the recap of the theme. Bookending the album are Andrew York’s sprightly “Hidden Realm of Mild” and Houghton’s luminous “Wave Radiance.” The York piece, recorded beforehand on LAGQ’s 2006 album Spin, will get a replay as the opener on Opalescent.
“‘Wave Radiance’ is nearly like a bonus observe,” Kanengiser says. “Suite Transcendent ends with a bang and then ‘Wave Radiance’ carries you out on a beam of gentle. It’s a meditation on subtly morphing waves of gentle beams. I don’t suppose we’ve recorded a bit like that.”
On June 27, 2021, the Guitar Basis of America celebrated the 4 a long time of LAGQ, presenting them with the Inventive Achievement Award and inducting them into the GFA Corridor of Fame. Pepe Romero introduced the award in a ceremony that additionally acknowledged previous LAGQ members Angarola and York, who have been available. In the June 2021 problem of Soundboard, the journal of the GFA, Romero shared reminiscences about the group’s evolution, writing: “Briefly time, LAGQ developed their very own musical course and fashion and grew to become an unlimited success, taking part in live shows, making recordings, inspiring composers to put in writing for them, which offered an enormous contribution to the guitar quartet literature.” Moreover, LAGQ has helped to popularize the guitar quartet internationally and impressed quite a few different teams to kind.
Judging by the stylistic variety of their repertoire, some might imagine the LAGQ has left the conventional canon behind. However classical music is nicely represented of their discography alongside different varieties of music. The group’s reside present paints the full image. “We’ve at all times taken a balanced strategy to our recitals,” says Kanengiser. “We open with the overture to Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, and finish the live performance with music by Manuel de Falla. We additionally play an association I made of the first motion of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata.’ It’s turn out to be type of successful for us. As soon as we set up our bona fides with a chamber music viewers, then we will hit them with Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix.”
What They Play
On Opalescent, John Dearman performs a 2018 Dennis Tolz spruce seven-string with D’Addario XT arduous pressure strings, Invoice Kanengiser performs a 2016 Gernot Wagner spruce with Savarez Cantiga Blue, Scott Tennant performs a 2010 Philip Woodfield spruce with Savarez Cantiga Creation Pink, and Matthew Greif performs a 2015 Antonius Müller cedar with Savarez Cantiga Pink. —MS