A Tale of Two Festivals–II

Published by Legacy of Matanya Ophee on

Cuernavaca ’99 

by Matanya Ophee

David TanenbaumCarlos BernalManuel BarruecoAntonio LópezDavid StarobinMatanya Ophee
Roland DyensFranco PlatinoAntigoni GoniJudicaël PerroySergio & Odair AssadManuel Rubio

Que Bonitos Ojos Tienes! This opening exclamation of the Malagueña Salerosa which I heard sung by my teacher José Pelta so many years ago, always had me fascinated by Mexico and its culture. I am not even sure if the song is Mexican in origin or if the Los Panchos group that popularized it in the early 50s hails from Mexico or from somewhere else. But in the days when singing the international song repertoire of the time in coffee houses from Chicago to Lausanne to Tel-Aviv was part of my daily preoccupation with the guitar, I wanted so much to go south and check out those beautiful eyes for myself. As a student of the classical guitar, I was introduced to the music of Manuel Ponce by Richard Pick in the early 60s. Pick was an avid admirer of Ponce in those days, and by the time I left Chicago in May of 1962, I could do some pretty credible renditions of the Sonatina Meridional, the 12 preludes, the Thême Variée et Finale, the La Folia Variations and Fugue and the Sonata III, not to mention the so-called Weiss suite in A, and the E major harpsichord prelude. Mexico and its music was very much on my mind. 

I finally got there in 1982 on the occasion of the performance of my edition of the Beethoven-Matiegka Serenade Op. 8 at the Nezahualcóyotl Hall in Mexico City by Oscar Ghiglia and members of the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra. It was a short visit and I did not get to see much of the city or the countryside. But I did meet with Miguel Alcázar then, a meeting that was the start of a collaboration that produced some of my more important publications. I was again in Mexico City in 1984, visiting with Miguel and the composer Enrique Santos. It was a combination of a vacation with a business trip. It also was the occasion for a short side trip to the CENIDIM archive in Mexico City, where I found the information about the performance of the guitar concerto by Rafael Adame in February of 1933, an event which took place six years before the alleged Andrés Segovia commission of a guitar concerto from Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco in 1939, purported to have been the first guitar concerto of the 20th century. 

The only available copy of the score of the Adame Concerto resides in the Fleischer Collection at the Free Library in Philadelphia. This information is included in the famous The Guitar and Mandolin dictionary by Philip J. Bone. Actually, of the many guitar works listed in this book, the Adame is one of the very few mentioned by Bone with a precise library location. I got a copy of the concerto already in the late 70s, and it was one of the very first items I thought to publish when I founded Editions Orphée. It was my view then, as it is today, that the Adame Concerto is not only an historically important composition, it is, without doubt, a brilliant piece of musical genius. 

There were some intractable legal problems attached to it. No one knew if the composer was still alive, and if so, where to find him. No one knew if he may have died, and if so, who would be in charge of his estate. Now that I had the information which established the antecedence of this concerto over all others in the 20th century, it became imperative to find out. So taking my cue from a plea for historical accuracy sounded by Graham Wade on the pages of Classical Guitar magazine, I wrote my article “The First Guitar Concerto and Other Legends . . .” which was published in the same magazine in 1984, and in which I said in plain language that Segovia lied to us when he claimed that the Castelnuovo-Tedesco concerto of 1939 was the first in this century. He must have known the truth, since he was present in Mexico City in February of 1933. 

The immediate effect of the article was to assure me the unmitigated animosity of every Segovia fan around the world. The Old Man himself, so it was alleged, was not amused. Eventually, the uproar died out, but not my interest in the Adame concerto. Over the years, I implored every possible Mexican connection I could find to look for the Adame estate. Some people did do whatever research was possible, but nothing promising came out. The matter lay dormant for more than a decade until about 1996, when the legal prospects of publishing this concerto acquired some new considerations. As it turned out, Byron Fogo in the US, and Manuel Rubio and Alejandro Madrid in Mexico, have reached the same conclusions about this affair at about the same time I did, and if not for the existence of electronic mail, we would not have been able to reach agreement and collaborate on finally realizing this project so quickly.

It is perhaps significant that at least in part, Manuel and Alejandro have been motivated to search out the Adame concerto, by my 1984 article. Naturally, when Manuel began to prepare this concerto for publication, he also scheduled a live performance of the work in the course of the 4th Cuernavaca Festival in 1997 of which he is the founder and director. I was invited then to do a pre-concert talk about the history of this concerto, together with Alejandro Madrid. Later that evening, November 15th, 1997, the concerto was performed at the Teatro Ocampo in Cuernavaca by the Orquesta de Cámara de Morelos, Eduardo Sánches-Zúber conducting, with Manuel Rubio playing the solo part. Thus, a long forgotten musical treasure has been brought back to life, and I gained a deeper insight into the culture that always attracted me. I also found much friendship and esteem, a commodity that is hard to find in this guitar world of ours. 

It is a bit late to write a fuller account of Cuernavaca ’97. The forthcoming publication of the Adame Concerto, edited by Byron Fogo, piano reduction prepared by Lilia Vázquez and edited by Manuel Rubio and Joel Almazán with an Introduction by Alejandro Madrid, will be a better testimonial for this incredible event than anything I can say in retrospect. The Cuernavaca ’98 festival was written about by Kenny Hill who also gave a wonderful description of the locale. No need to duplicate his vivid characterization. So here is my view of Cuernavaca ’99. 

One important part of the festival, apparent during the three years that I have been in attendance, is the special painting prepared for each of the events by Rafael Cauduro, a noted Mexican artist who lives in Cuernavaca. During the festival, the life size painting lives on stage at the Sala Ponce, the small hall at the Jardín Borda where the afternoon concerts and lectures take place. It is reproduced on festival posters spread all over the town of Cuernavaca, and also on the concert brochures. Here are the last three paintings, reproduced here with the artist’s permission:

For me, these paintings project a sense of tranquility, of a free-spirit creativity, of unabashed passion, of music, as no other visual presentations I have seen in guitar festivals around the world. This is visual art at its best, not a mere sleight-of-hand of a commercial illustrator. I wish I could afford the original!

David TanenbaumTeatro Morelos 

The Sixth International Guitar Festival in Cuernavaca opened on Monday, November 15th with a concert by David Tanenbaum at the Teatro Morelos. The venue is actually a movie theater, a large cavernous hall with a silver screen in the back of a wide stage that could easily accommodate a symphony orchestra. Concerts would begin at 9 P.M., or when the last movie showing ended, whichever came first. Acoustically, it could have been a satisfactory place, if not for the thin walls which let in the noise of street traffic, buses lumbering up the hill, people conversing just outside, not to mention this car parked in the street nearby, and which this one car thief was trying to break into every evening at precisely 10:30, right in the middle of the second half of the guitar concert.

I have been an admirer of David ever since he broke my heart at the 1977 Carmel Guitar Festival with a thrilling performance of Britten’s Nocturnal op. 70. I followed his career very closely over the intervening 22 years and although we never actually collaborated on any project, it was thanks to his performance at the 1989 Second American Guitar Congress in Winston-Salem, that I was moved to publish one of the most important chamber music compositions of this century, the Tríptico for guitar and string quartet by Roberto Sierra that was dedicated to him. 

The first half of the program was dominated by transcriptions from the piano works of Satie (Gymnopedie No. 1, Gnossiennes 1-3) and Debussy (La Fille aux cheveux de lin, Le petit berger, Le petit negre). David is now preparing a full scale recording of this repertoire and we were given a taste of what’s to come. Interspersed with these Gallic charmers, David played four pieces by John Anthony Lennon (Berceuse, Forbidden Dances, As she sings, Serenata) and one by Peter Sculthorpe (From kakadu). Sorry, but this is not my cup-o’-tea. I have no doubt that David’s commitment to this music is sincere and serious. As one at the receiving end of this kaka-doo, I had a difficult time to decide if I wanted to be bothered by a second hearing. 

Not so with the piece that opened the second half, the 1978 Serenade by Lou Harrison, performed with percussionist Jacobo León. Here was a contemporary tour-de-force, delivered with the same sincerity and seriousness as the previous Lennon and Sculthorpe pieces, and with the same impeccable virtuosity that made Tanenbaum such a compelling advocate of contemporary music, but also with a penetrating emotional thrust that left no doubt in this listener’s mind that here was a man in charge, a performer who knew exactly what he was doing to us by fashioning the composer’s creation as a commanding, unforgettable, experience. 

We heard David’s performance of Toru Takemitsu’s 1995 In the Woods already in Cuernavaca 1997. It was good to hear this masterpiece again. If I am not mistaken, this was the last piece written by Takemitsu shortly before his death in 1996. When it was performed a year later, the piece, and the memory of the composer’s must have been fresh in the musician’s mind. It was a powerful rendition then, and it was even more convincing now that the music has gelled and matured in the artist’s concept of it. 

Steve Reich’s Nagoya Guitars, performed by David Tanenbaum and Manuel Rubio, is a transcription of a piece for marimbas by Tanenbaum and Reich. It was delivered with an amiable fluency, so compatible with the gestures of this music. Obviously, both musicians, and their audience, enjoyed themselves, particularly when the car alarm going on outside seemed to have been an apt environmental minimalism itself. The concert ended with Reich’s by now classic Electric Counterpoint.

Carlos BernalSala Ponce

This Mexican guitarist, a professor of guitar at the La Salle University in Cuernavaca, graduated in 1989 from the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with Manuel Barrueco. His afternoon program on Tuesday was devoted to works by Takemitsu (Equinox, Folios, All in Twilight), Brouwer (Hika, in memoriam Toru Takemitsu and the 1990 Sonata) with the Ponce-Weiss Suite in a minor thrown in for good measure. After all, the concert was given in a hall named after Manuel Ponce! 

Carlos Bernal is clearly a competent player who knows the business of music making on stage. Nevertheless, one was left with a feeling that while the artist was giving his best, he was not giving it all. I am sure there is a lot more to Carlos Bernal than was evident in this event, and I surely would like to be present when he opens up and shares with us not only his fluent command of the instrument, but also allows us a peek into his soul.

Manuel on the left, Manuel on the right, and David and me in the middle. 
A typical after-concert scene at the Marco Polo Restaurant in Cuernavaca. 
Photo by Asgerdur Sigurdardottir. Used by permission.

Manuel BarruecoTeatro Morelos

In fact, Manuel’s program on Tuesday evening was identical with the one I walked out of, for sheer exhaustion, in Charleston a week earlier. Thank God for small favors! 

What can one say about an artist one has heard so many times over the last 25 years? There was a time it was customary to regard a Barrueco recital as yet another predictable demonstration of flawless precision, wearisomely perfect. Barrueco’s recital at the Iserlohn festival two years ago, the last time I heard him on stage, was a good demonstration of that singular dichotomy. If Manuel ever had a “bad night,” no one seems to have been present, least of all myself. That is of course unfair, though many lesser souls would have considered such a characterization of themselves as a supreme compliment. Yet, going to the Barrueco concert in Cuernavaca, I was too preoccupied with my long established sentiments about the musician, to be ready for the shock of discovery, for the startling ambush of musical pleasure this man laid in for us. 

The program opened with the g minor Sonata for solo violin (BWV 1001), here played in the original key, not transcribed to a minor as is customary. I am not sure it matters a bag of beans one way or the other, as, in any case, the piece sounds an octave lower than it does on the violin. It was Alex Radulescu who developed the thesis that Bach on the guitar, the violin pieces in particular, is not a satisfactory auditory experience because the same intervals have different physical attributes in different octaves. Another objection is that while we think in terms of equal temperament, a guitar mounted with fixed frets produces only a distant approximation of this temperament. These are all theoretical questions which border on pedantic purism but which may not be aesthetically relevant. What really determines the suitability of a given key, particularly in a guitaristic culture which accepts Bach transcriptions unreservedly, is not so much the choice of keys, but rather the artist’s ability to project a convincing representation of the polyphony, an artistic rendition of the phrasing and a masterful control of the dynamic orchestration of this music. Manuel Barrueco’s g minor version was such a performance. I was happy to be present and hear it. 

The first half of the concert closed with three pieces by Joaquín Turina (Homenaje a Tárrega, Op. 69, Fandanguillo, op. 36 and the Sevillana Op. 29). Long part of the Segovia repertoire, these pieces risk succumbing to the self-serving “Celebration of Segovia” ritual we have had the misfortune to observe much too often. Not here. 

Turina’s music is good music, even if Segovia had never played it. This a serious contribution by a major Spanish composer which stands on its own regardless of any hype. And that is how Barrueco dealt with it. An impressionistic view of a sanitized flamenco, free of gypsy rankle and bother and completely divorced from the ostentatious posturing of the genre. The fervor and excitement with which it was delivered, was due to the guitarist’s own masterful control of the idiom, to his unmistakable virtuosity, to his deep understanding of the music. In short, a breathlessly delicious torment, the effects of which kept on lingering well into the lengthy intermission that followed. 

In the second half, we were treated, once again, to the music of Lou Harrison (Air, Sonata in Ishartum, Serenado por Gitaro, Round, from Music for Bill and Me), this time not requiring the assistance of a percussionist. It amazes me how it is possible for many American guitarists, and a good number of European ones, to indulge themselves in cheap lollipops, quick fixes for insecure egos, when music on the level of Harrison’s is readily available for the taking. The realization that professional music making depends, first and foremost, on a fearless rejection of the facile theatricality of guitaristic fluff, is what separates the juveniles from the adults, the men from the boys, the women from the girls. Manuel Barrueco, and this performance of the Harrison pieces was an ample proof of that, is, without question, a fully fledged adult musician, a man. 

The next piece, just about in time for the 10:30 performance of the car alarm outside, was a work called New York Rush by Enrique Ubieta. Not much information on the composer was provided in the program notes beyond the birth year of 1934. If this is an old piece that has been around, then I was not fortunate enough to hear it yet. If it is new, then I say welcome! Clearly, a piece I would need to hear again, a piece I want to hear again. 

The concert ended with three selections of Barrios lollipops (Danza Paraguaya, Julia Florida, Valse Op. 8, No.4), probably chosen in consideration of the audience’s make up of Mexican guitar students and some of the local populace, perhaps not as well versed in the intricacies of contemporary guitar music as this jaded critic. Of one thing I am pretty sure; Barrueco’s Vals was indeed a true danceable valse with the precision of an ein-zwei-drei pulse in the foundation of it, with all the singing rubato of a Strauss violin right on top. In spite of the street noise and the inevitable car alarm, it was an evening to remember.

Antonio LópezSala Ponce

Antonio López’ afternoon concert on Wednesday began with a tribute to Manuel Ponce: a selection of six short preludes and the Thême Variée et Finale. Antonio’s command of the legacy of Manuel Ponce was already recorded in the first volume of the Complete Ponce which he is recording for Soundset Records (SR-1006),[1]Soundset Recordings. 16627 N. 61st Way, Scottsdale, AZ 85254. a project which will cover the entire guitar music of Ponce in 5 CDs. There are a lot of Complete this or Complete that flooding the CD market these days, and it’s tough to compete, even if your recording is based on a direct understanding of the Mexican spirit which pervades the music of this quintessential Mexican composer. Antonio’s CD, at least for me, is the best rendition of this music I have heard. His performance in Cuernavaca was nothing less.

The Ponce was followed by another composition by a Mexican composer, the Sonata de la Muerte “in Memoriam Ludwig van Beethoven” by Julio César Oliva (b. 1947). I already heard this work, performed by the composer in person at an impromptu performance during a presentation of the newly issued CD of his music (La Guitarra de Cristal, CIDEG-0001) in the 1997 Cuernavaca Festival. I forgot about it rather quickly. The work is in three movements, respectively titled Dolor, Agonía and Muerte— Pain, Agony and Death. Indeed.

In the liner notes to his CD, it is said, by whoever wrote these liner notes, that 

“the work is meant to [represent] the afflictions and long suffering of the immortal Ludwig van Beethoven. Written in the style of Beethoven, the composer/guitarist seeks the darker registers expressing solemnity but without excessive gloom. The final movement is full of angst and desperation; tragic, yet a celebration of death . . .”

On rehearing it as performed by the composer himself on his CD, the work, it seems to me, is replete with desperation when, for want of original ideas, he takes lengthy quotations from famous Beethoven pieces, the eighth piano sonata, the Moonlight Sonata, the fifth symphony and others less familiar works, transcribes them for the guitar and strings them like green peppers to dry out in the grimy smog of a Mexico City noon hour. Of course it is “in the style” of Beethoven. Much of it was written by Beethoven himself! A barren pastiche which pays homage to Beethoven by borrowing bits and pieces from him while constructing improbable bridges between them. This is no Britten Nocturnal nor a Castelnuovo-Tedesco Capriccio Diabolico where the quotation from the music of the person to whom an homage is made (Dowland and Paganini respectively), appears briefly, towards the end of the piece, like an after-thought. An honest homage would not be in an illusive style of, but in an authentic spirit of the composer one is paying homage to.

In his performance of this inauspicious composition, remarkably, Antonio changed the sequence of the pieces, starting with Agony and continuing with Pain. This was not just a figurative treatment of the music according to the sub-titles of the work, but the performer was visibly in pain and agony trying to get through this recondite mess, and so was the audience. Why is this necessary?

After the intermission, we were given to hear some selections from the standard repertoire: the Fantasia No. 7 by Dowland, Prelude, Fugue and Allegro by Bach and the Sonata Op. 47 by Ginastera. It’s easy to nit-pick on the Dowland and Bach. I am not convinced that putting a capo on the second fret in the Dowland is any more authentic than playing it straight. One of those silly notions of bogus authenticity which have been floating around for years now, but which have no basis in historical fact. Also, putting a capo on the first fret in the Bach, making it to sound in the original key of E-flat, is another misguided choice which does not present any different polyphonic realizations. If one is really intent on playing the music in the original key, it is just as easy to transcribe the piece in E-flat while using a sixth in E-flat scordatura. It’s been done before.[2]Anton Stingl, Johann Sebastian Bach Lautenmusik, VEB Friedrich Hofmeister, Leipzig, 1957.

The best part was reserved for the end. Antonio López’ rendition of the Ginastera Sonata Op. 47 is the best I have heard, bar none. I am not sure if his close interest in Argentinian folklore has anything to do with that, but this was a decisive interpretation unhampered by rhythmic vacillation in sailing through the more tangled section of this Sonata. The matter was made even clearer with La Cuartelera by Eduardo Falú, played as an encore. Right there, full of macho passion, full of gauchesco nostalgic pomposity just like Don Eduardo would have it. A dentro!

David StarobinTeatro Morelos

David Starobin needs no introduction, except to say that my personal acquaintance with him occurred many years after my meetings with most of the leading lights of the guitar of the last two decades. When I lived in New York, back in the early 60s, David was still a young man moving in different circles than I was. I never met him at New York Guitar Society meetings, or in the private gatherings in the homes of Vladimir Bobri, Ken Sidon, Gregory d’Alessio, Shirley DeWald and other New York guitar luminaries of the time. It was only many years after that scene had evaporated, after the untimely death of Martha Nelson and the tragic fire that took Bobri, after I moved away from New York, that I finally met Starobin and got to hear him in concert. This was at the First American Guitar Congress in June of 1986 at the University of Maryland. By that time Editions Orphée was a going concern, David already was a major figure in our little world, his company, Bridge Records, was beginning to take shape and it was no surprise to either of us that the meeting produced a recording by David of several pieces from Vol. I of the Russian Collection, an anthology I just published.

My review of that Congress was published in Classical Guitar magazine in January of 1987. I had a few things to say about many events that took place in this Congress. As par for the course, I spoke my mind as I always do. Some of the things I said were complimentary, some were critical, some were lukewarm, some were scorching. David’s recital earned from me these comments:

David Starobin established his authority on the audience with the very first chord of Sor’s Fantaisie Elegiaque. Here is a performer who refuses to be pigeon-holed [. . .] His concept of the style is intelligent and knowledgeable. [. . .] Starobin’s reading of Sor is directly related to the current understanding of the style of Schubert by pianists of the first rank. What a marvelous living proof that we have nothing to be ashamed of. This is first-rate music, if we only cared to give it a first-rate performance! David Starobin followed this by the well-known Changes written for him by Elliott Carter, giving the work a reading impelled by his own inner convictions. There could be no greater disparity between two pieces on the same program — Sor and Carter. Yet, Starobin, by the sheer force of his superior musicianship, blended the two opposites into one powerful moment. I was speechless.

It would have been easy to recycle this 1986 review and apply it to a concert 15 years later. The artist’s notion of opposites: Sor and Carter, Giuliani and Crumb, is still very much the same as it was then. His command of the instrument seems to be intact, if not much improved actually. As for his approach to interpretation of early 19th century guitar music, it is still on solid grounds as it was in 1986. The difference is that in the intervening years, my own sense of this music had undergone a considerable transmutation and I cannot accept today the same aesthetic sensibilities which formed my critical listening then. My own immersion in this music and its history has been rather intense, and particularly so since I stopped flying airplanes for a living in 1988. I know today a lot more than I did then. So when David opened his concert with the 12 Valses, op. 57 by Mauro Giuliani, I had to raise an eyebrow. Is he going to play all 12? Valzers, Trio, repeats and all? That was what the program said and that was exactly what he did. 

In a recent interview with Colin Cooper (Classical Guitar, December 1999), David justified playing the entire cycle because, according to him, it is “one of Giuliani’s most inspired solos” and that these waltzes “contain inter-related” material. 

The idea that this particular collection of 12 waltzes is somehow more inspired than the many other such collections produced by Giuliani for the consumption of amateurs, is not new. In the July, 1985 issue of Classical Guitar magazine (same issue of the magazine which carried my article on the First Guitar Concerto mentioned above!), in response to a question by Colin Cooper about traveling Italian guitarists and their use of Italian music, the late Ruggero Chiesa said:

[. . .] the Italian repertory is hard to take abroad — it would be hard, for example, to play an entire concert of music by Giuliani in Paris. And recently, in Germany, after a very good performance [by Oscar Ghiglia?], one of the audience reached the point of defining as “horrible music” the Valzer op. 57 of Giuliani, that, as you know, is one of the most elegant and refined works of this composer [. . .]

Chiesa, most probably, used this particular turn of phrase because when he said it, he was wearing the mantle of the Defender of Italian Heritage Against Crude Attacks By Ignorant Germans. The incident in question was not elaborated on and we do not know if this German “one of the audience” said what he said at the time of the performance, was overheard saying it in the intermission, or in a published review someplace. We also do not know if this was a concert which Chiesa attended in person, or it was a story related to him by Ghiglia or by someone else.

In any case, taking the statement out of the context in which it was uttered, as was done by Brian Jeffery in his introduction to Vol. 7 of the Complete Giuliani in which Op. 57 is included, is not a fair representation of the judgements of Ruggero Chiesa. It is of some significance that in his own edition of Op. 57,[3]Suvini-Zerboni, Milano, No. S. 8566 Z. Ruggero Chiesa said nothing in particular in favor of this set as opposed to the many other similar sets composed by Giuliani which he published.

I am not sure I would join this mysterious German “one of the audience” in condemning this set as horrible music, though I suspect many among the young guitar students present in Cuernavaca, those who are not so well exposed to early 19th century guitar music, would have expressed a similar sentiment. For whatever it’s worth, several did. 

I would take issue though, with Starobin’s reasons for playing the entire set in public. Had this choice been made arbitrarily, because the artist’s likes it that way, because it is there, then we can take it or leave, but we would have no quarrel with him. The performer’s prerogative. But when he justifies the choice by whatever historical or musical argumentation, we have to examine the arguments and see what’s there.

One’s perception of this music as “inspired” is a matter of taste we also cannot argue about, whether it was expressed by Chiesa, quoted out of context by Jeffery and expressed again by Starobin. On the other hand, the idea that it is one solo piece, meant to be played in its entirety by the composer because it appears to contain inter-related matter, is another thing altogether. 

There is no record in existence of Giuliani ever performing it in public, which may not mean much beyond the fact that if such a record ever existed, it does not seem to have survived. However, the concert environment of the time, the situation in which Giuliani the performer would be likely to appear in concert, is one which would give him, at best, 10 or 15 minutes, in a program populated by many other instrumentalists, singers and chamber ensembles. One did not squander the occasion on 18-20 minutes of mono-rhythmic series of modest miniatures, probably executed at the same tempo, where some of the pieces have a smooth key relationship, and some are so far apart harmonically that grouping them together produces an offensive jolt. If Giuliani, or any other artist for that matter, was to appear in public, he would have chosen a brilliant set of variations, a large scale work, an operatic potpourri or anything else which would allow him to show off his virtuosity to the greatest possible advantage. Asking us to believe that Giuliani meant this work to be played in its entirety, is asking a bit much.

Then there is the question of the “inter-related material.” Of course these pieces contain inter-related material. They also contain material which can be found in many other compositions by Giuliani and by many of his contemporaries. The proper term for this use of inter-related musical gestures is called a cliché. The fact that the first two bars of Waltz No. 4 and the first two bars of the Trio to Waltz No. 12 seem to be similar, is nothing more than a mere happenstance conjured by a repetitive manipulation of a formula. I don’t see how it could possibly be considered as a recapitulation of motivic material. 

There is though, the matter of the several sets of 12 Ländler by Giuliani, which, according to Thomas Heck,[4]Thomas F. Heck, Mauro Giuliani: Virtuoso Guitarist and Composer, Columbus, 1995, page 185.were in fact meant to be played together. They are all in the same key in each of the sets. But again, this was not meant to be concert performance as we understand it today, but rather performance in house gatherings in full concordance with Austrian folk practices, where such dance cycles were performed over and over at an ever increasing tempo.

The stage of the Teatro Morelos in Cuernavaca is very far, geographically, temporally and culturally, from early 19th century Vienna. These 12 waltzes by Mauro Giuliani, although played with flair and conviction and with immaculate precision, fell like a lead balloon on the Mexican audience. As for this listener, I found the experience interesting as an intellectual exercise, but entirely too long in the context of a public recital. By any stretch of the imagination, Giuliani’s Op. 57 is not in the same ball park as Sor’s Op. 59, his Fantaisie Elegiaque.

A different matter altogether was the following selection of three Etudes by Giulio Regondi. Both David Starobin and myself have been linked to this music almost from the beginning. I discovered its existence and actually found the music, David was the first to play it, record it and actively promote it all over the world. There was a time when David would play the entire set of 10 Etudes, an exercise which took the better part of 40 minutes to get through. Interestingly, he used the same justification then: the 10 Etudes of Giulio Regondi contained inter-related material and were constructed as one work. I never actually agreed with this concept, but I could not object, because, in my perception of this music, each of the Etudes is so different from any of the other, that one is never presented with any tedious repetitions and phoney “recapitulations.” There is never a dull moment in this entire set and a public performance of it is justified, for example, just as much as a public performance of the entire set of piano etudes by Chopin.

David chose Etudes No. 1 in C Major, Etude No. 8 in G Major and Etude No. 5 in A Major. As good a choice as any, and the audience, myself included, enjoyed this brief passage into the intermission.

The intermission was actually a blessing which allowed us to regroup and get ready for David’s other side: Contemporary music. He opened with George Crumb’s Mundus Canis for guitar and percussion, which he also recorded recently with the composer playing the percussion part. In Cuernavaca that job fell to the talented percussionist Jacobo León which we already heard in the Tanenbaum concert a couple of days earlier. David introduced the piece verbally, in English. Some people in the audience may have understood him, but the acoustics of the Morelos movie theater were such that I could not, and thus missed the point that the names of the five movements, Tammy, Fritzi, Heidel, Emma-Jean and Yoda, referred to five little dogs owned by Crumb and his wife during their 50 years of marriage.[5] Information gleaned from the Classical Guitar December 1999 interview quoted above.

Perfectly innocent, except that for a cantankerous old man like myself the title, Mundus Canis, brought an immediate association with the 1963 documentary film by Gualterio Jacopetti Mondo Cane,[6]See: http://www.1worldfilms.com/Italy/mondocane.htm one of the most startling events of my youth, a film described as both fascinating and repulsive, containing scenes of flagellation, nude painting, primitive rituals and the culinary delights of dog meat and fried dung beetles. This was, in the early 60s, one of the most argued about films. As disgusting as it was, as clashing as its repugnant images were with my still innocent view of the world, I went to see it five times. I wanted to find out what people were arguing about—in the press, in radio talk shows, in private gatherings. Never did actually find out and the lingering effects of this horror show stayed with me for years. Eventually, I managed to erase it from my internal hard drive, being driven hard by questions of survival in a dog’s world. It was not intended this way, but George Crumb’s title brought back all of this horrific dross and that was the emotional backdrop for my first reception of this work. Of course, it was a moving experience as powerful as any piece by George Crumb. Now that I know the true story, I’ll have to hear it again, with five cute little doggies in mind.

The program closed with six New Dances by various composers which David recorded recently. I liked some of them, I disliked the others. Par for the course. These bookish observations of mine notwithstanding, Starobin’s concert was a challenging and rewarding experience. Whether I agree with him on this or that or not, does not change the fact that I enjoyed myself a great deal. I’d rather listen to someone who makes me think, than to mindless purveyors of hype. Back to Top

Matanya OpheeSala Ponce

No. I am not going to review my own lecture on Thursday afternoon, except to pay homage to Alejandro Madrid who translated it into Spanish and spent time coaching me on the correct pronunciation. I also wish to thank the Trio de Guitarras de Cuernavaca, an ad hoc group of students who volunteered to give a live demonstration of one of the musical examples in my lecture. Back to Top

Roland Dyens–Teatro Morelos

Describing a concert by Roland Dyens is like trying to catch the wind. The moment you thought you got him figured out, he is already elsewhere exploring new worlds. A Dyens recital traditionally opens with an improvisatory piece which he creates extemporaneously right then and there. Having heard him do this so many times by now, I swear these improvisations are all different. Not even the same formulaic structure one finds in such exhibitions by others. The program, never advertised in advance, then continues with a selection from his compositions, the inevitable Mes Ennui Op. 46 by Fernando Sor, and an unexpected surprise or two. This time, it was a Suite from the London Manuscript by Leopold Sylvius Weiss, transcribed for guitar by Roland. I am very fond of the recordings of this music on a baroque lute by Michel Cardin, a lutenist who hails from Canada and one of the few musicians I know who can put some life into this music. If Roland Dyens ever heard these recordings, he would instantly recognize his own sense of melodic beauty, of polyphonic control and sheer musicianship. A most enjoyable evening, hardly marred by the on-time performance of the car alarm outside at 10:30 sharp which Roland managed to work right into one of his pieces, much to our delight.

Franco PlatinoSala Ponce

First hearing. I was so disgusted with the hackneyed atmosphere at the 1997 GFA festival in La Jolla, where Franco Platino got the second prize, that I did not stay for the competition finals and went home. So I missed him then. His Naxos recording shows him to great advantage and the program he played in Cuernavaca on Friday afternoon was pretty much the same as the one on his CD. Listening to it, one understands precisely why this young man is now promoted by none other than Manuel Barrueco, his current teacher at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.

His Bach (d minor partita BWV 1007, complete with the Chaconne) was well played, though at times, one would wish for a bit more space between the phrases. The obligatory Ponce, (remember, we are at the Sala Ponce!) was the Sonatina Meridional which we heard many times in Cuernavaca, including one startling performance in 1998 by Gonzalo Salazar of something which was touted as the “original” version, before it was mucked about by Segovia. Franco’s rendition may not have won many Mexican hearts, but it confirmed for me, once again, that after all was said and done, Segovia’s transcription of the Sonatina Meridional, was not such a bad thing. Gonzalo Salazar and I had a rather heated argument about this last year, an event which greatly increased my command of the Castilian idiom. We continued it this year after the last concert, and probably will do so again next year. Hopefully, Gonzalo will secure for me copies of these phantom “original” manuscripts, so I could evaluate the matter more closely.

As I said, I did not stick around for the competition finals in La Jolla, so I did not get to hear the last four renditions of one of the test pieces, the Un Tiempo Fue Itálica famosa, the last guitar piece written by Joaquín Rodrigo before his death. It is not nice to speak ill of the dead, particularly so soon after the man’s passing. I will only say that there is nothing particular to recommend this collection of shallow pseudo-flamenco falsetas and inconsequential scale runs. This is far below the level of the Rodrigo masterpieces we have come to love and cherish, the Invocación y Danza, the Zapateado, the Zarabanda Lejana, the En Los Trigales. If the piece did not carry the name of Rodrigo, I would have sworn it was written by the late Celedonio Romero. That it was edited by that paragon of good taste and breeding, the incredible Angel Romero,[7]and those of us who were present at Angel’s concert in La Jolla would know how incredible that performance was! perhaps one of the reasons it was selected as a test piece in a GFA competition which was part of a Romero family gathering, would be one reason to strike it out of the repertoire of serious guitarists. I understand that after investing so much sweat and tears in learning this odium for the competition, one might consider keeping it alive. For about three seconds, for most anybody else who took part in the event. Recording it on his debut CD with Naxos, and continuing to play it in his concerts, is not doing much for the development of this young man’s career. He is far better than that.

The concert closed with a lively rendition of Tárrega’s Variations on the Carnival Of Venice.

Antigoni GoniTeatro Morelos

I have heard Antigoni Goni play in impromptu situations trying out guitars in the vendor’s fair in GFA festivals, I listened to her CDs often. But the truth of the matter is that this was the very first time I heard her in a concert situation and I was curious to see and hear what happens when she plays on stage. I liked what I heard, after a fashion. I did not like what I saw. 

It’s always been a pet peeve of mine. Years ago, I wrote a scathing review of a Dale Kavanagh solo concert in Krakow, which earned me the fury of several German readers of Gitarre & Laute. How dare I criticize a guitarist’s body language and facial grimaces, when the business at hand is the sound of music, not the visual appearance of the performer. After all, it was pointed put to me, a guitarist is just a human being who cannot leave behind personal habits and don’t ever forget Glenn Gould! My response to this was that I too am a human being who cannot leave behind a strong personal aversion to visual cues such as twisting the face unnaturally during a crescendo, nodding the head in the direction of the fingerboard to emphasize an accent, dancing coquettishly with the shoulders to accompany a dancing lilt in the music, and a wide variety of ugly facial grimaces which I find distracting in the extreme.

I said pretty much the same thing back in 1978, in reviewing a concert by Eliot Fisk in Boston. It does not matter to me if the performers are handsome young women or handsome young men, or even gangly adolescents or middle-aged have-beens. I came to listen to music, not to be assaulted by a visual display of beguiling body language as an added layer of interpretive cues, over and above the music. Dale herself, to her credit, when we finally met after that review was published and after the polemical storm about it died out, thanked me for having said what I said. We are now very good friends.

Do not get me wrong. I am not suggesting that a musician should sit there like a stone statue, frozen in awe. It is a question of good measure, of moderation and control, of not abusing what nature has given you, of not exaggerating. Antigoni Goni is an excellent musician and a first class performer. She does not need these extra visual cues to get her message across. 

I was looking forward to hear the “…Ëpidos” by Stanley Silverman which was written for Antigoni. I am always interested in hearing new music. I am not always fond of what I hear, and I am quick to dispatch some new music I have heard, in this festival and elsewhere, to the dust bin of guitar history. There was a time I would get 4-5 manuscripts of new music a week, by composers who wanted me to publish their works. I looked attentively at all of them, and that is how I am now the proud owner of one of the largest collection of un-publishable music. The flow has almost dried out in recent times, when finally people realized that it would be a waste of postage to send me this stuff. But I still get some 4-5 manuscripts a month. But I did come across on some really excellent music which was sent to me unsolicited. I even published some of it.

It was to be a first performance, but, for whatever reason, it was not performed. Instead, we were treated to yet another rendition of Jack Duarte’s Variations on a Catalan Folk Song, a curious out-of-balance oddity, since I have never heard a piece by a Catalan composer on an English folk song. The rest of the program was made up of popular bits and pieces, Brouwer’s El Decameron Negro, Schubert-Liszt-Mertz lieder, Rodrigo’s Invocation, Barrios fluff and culminating with that masterpiece of Coy And Babble, Domeniconi’s Koyunbaba in which the performer’s coy served to underscore the composer’s babble.

The audience loved it and they her a standing ovation. It figures.

Judicaël PerroySala Ponce

Last day. I heard this young man once before, at the GFA festival in Montreal in 1998. I was not impressed. When we met in Cuernavaca, he told me that he too was not impressed by his Montreal performance. He was ushered on stage there an hour after he arrived at the festival, thinking the concert was actually scheduled for the next day, and after he spent a whole day and night traveling. He did not get a chance to shower and shave, let alone have a chance to take a few moments to collect himself and prepare for the concert. Being an incurable francophone myself, I naturally spent a few hours with this young man gabbing away in French. And I got to know him personally. A proud young Frenchman who is also cognizant of his African roots in Martinique and proudly tells his interlocutor that his mother is black.

Hearing him play, under normal circumstances, when he had a few days to relax and prepare, I understand now why he got the first prize at the 1997 GFA competition in La Jolla. This guy is good! Someone to watch out for.

He opened with two large scale works by Bach in his own transcription, the Concerto after Vivaldi BWV 972, and the a minor suite BWV 997. Expertly played with a good understanding of the style, perfect control over the phrasing, just about as satisfying Bach as one could wish for. He followed that with the Fantaisie Hongroise by Mertz, one of those magnificent displays of Hungarian gypsy passion which most non-Hungarian botch up mercilessly as an empty display of digital pyrotechnics. Perroy got the hang of this right and proper. He would dispatch himself with honor and respect in any gypsy gathering in the Hungarian Puszta. I still think it is better to play this work on the instrument for which it was written: the 10-string/24-fret Scherzer double-back guitar, than on a bare bones six-stringer. A different animal altogether. But given the correct stylistic peculiarities of this typical verbunkos, one can get away with it. Perroy did, and magnificently so. I enjoyed his Mertz very much.

He was scheduled to play two pieces by Albéniz after the intermission, Córdoba and Asturias. Mercifully, perhaps in deference to a statement I made to him privately before the concert regarding this music, he dropped these pieces from his program. The gesture touched me deeply. His performance of the Cinco piezasby Astor Piazzolla carried all the trademarks of his teacher, Roberto Aussel. Well played, but, and this is my measure on how anybody can play Piazzolla, I would not last on the tango dance floor for two measures with this music.

The program ended with Koshkin’s Usher Waltz in a rendition which makes that of John Williams pale by comparison. Mind you, even though I am the first person to ever publish this music, and its popularity owes much to my promotion of it, I think it is over-played and it’s time it was given a well-deserved rest. Judicaël, however, had given this lollipop such a blazing interpretation it almost sounded like real classical music. The audience loved it and would not let him go without putting out three encores which included some of the usual Lauro waltzes, a token Albéniz (Sevilla) and the Barrios La Catedral.

Sergio and Odair AssadTeatro Morelos

This is it: the culmination of a most incredible week, with a stellar performance by this phenomenal guitar duo. On the program: Harpsichord pieces by J.-P. Rameau, the Moreno-Torroba Estampas, Egberto Gismonti’s Sete Aneis. After the intermission: Canción y danza No. 5 & 6 by Federico Mompou, Leo Brouwer’s Danzas Concertantes and a transcription of the complete Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue.

I am sorry if I ran out of superlatives. I can only say that the Assads give good value for your time. They satisfy, they make you happy. You go home afterwards with a good feeling, with a sense of accomplishment as if it was you, personally, who made this happen. They share of themselves unremittingly, without shame, without excuses, beyond the horizon. Way to go!

Manuel Rubioeverywhere

Cannot let you go without a few words about the festival and its director, Manuel Rubio. When Manuel presents himself as the Artistic Director of the Cuernavaca Festival, he only tells us part of the story. Yes, indeed, he is the Artistic Director and the proof of that is the simple fact that this festival is first and foremost about art. No phoney pretensions, no ulterior motives, no secret agendas. Just good music and a powerful assemblage of the best guitar talent available today. I do not recall attending a similar festival in recent memory where, almost without exception, every single performer delivered. 

Of course, there is more to running such an event than selecting the talent. One has to find the money to pay for this. And here Manuel, for the sixth time running, managed to recruit the support of many local businesses, government agencies, and even some distant ones. Every little irritant, a missing foot stool, a needed tape recorder, rehearsal time at the theater, xerox copies, whatever, was immediately given the personal attention of Manuel, assisted by his wife Carla, and several other local people.

It appears that there is a thriving guitaristic culture all over Mexico, something we, north of the border, are not quite aware of. The Cuernavaca festival is one of many. Nevertheless, it was remarkable that many guitarists from all over Mexico, and a good number of Norte-Americanos came to Cuernavaca to share in the joy and friendship, to revel in the music. 

I will be in the next Cuernavaca Festival in 2000, fail not. In the meantime, I say to my friends Manuel, Carla, Antonio, Maura, Carlos, Carlos, Gonzalo, Alejandro, Ernesto, Corazón, Miguel, Enrique, Alberto, Rafael, Frederico, Hector, Luis, Miguel-Angel, Alfredo and all the others whose names escape me: Que Bonitos Ojos Tienes!

Copyright © 1999 by Editions Orphée, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


1 Soundset Recordings. 16627 N. 61st Way, Scottsdale, AZ 85254.
2 Anton Stingl, Johann Sebastian Bach Lautenmusik, VEB Friedrich Hofmeister, Leipzig, 1957.
3 Suvini-Zerboni, Milano, No. S. 8566 Z.
4 Thomas F. Heck, Mauro Giuliani: Virtuoso Guitarist and Composer, Columbus, 1995, page 185.
5  Information gleaned from the Classical Guitar December 1999 interview quoted above.
6 See: http://www.1worldfilms.com/Italy/mondocane.htm
7 and those of us who were present at Angel’s concert in La Jolla would know how incredible that performance was!


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