However much the classical music world has evolved, the mainstay repertory remains the product of, in New West Symphony artistic advisor Charles McDermott's words, "dead white European males." For the last eight years, the stated goal of the Ventura County-based orchestra's annual Musics Alive! series has been to even up the score. Last weekend's edition toasted music of Cuba and Spain, especially the former, via the gracefully culture-crossing work of Tania Leon. Born in Havana and based in New York, Leon has built up a reputation of increasing international stature, and for good reason.
What we heard whetted the appetite. Her enticing chamber ensemble piece "Indigena," performed Saturday night at Ventura's Mission Theater, handily blends influences in a Euro-Afro-Cuban stew. Unfortunately, one piece on Saturday's program, "sin normas ajenas," was scrapped at the last minute, reportedly because of inadequate rehearsal time, a bad precedent given that short rehearsal time is inherent in the presentation of new music.
In a concert dubbed "Cuba Alive!" Sunday in Ventura's Church of Religious Science, Cuba's musical strengths flowed freely. If anything, the program was too piecemeal, lacking a focal point. From Leon's recent acclaimed opera, "Scourge of Hyacinths," soprano Anne Marie Ketchum dignified the aria "Oh, Yemanja" and later reeled off Cuban popular songs. The program was framed by works inspired by Cuban music but penned by Yankees. The ever-impressive piano duo of Vicki Ray and Gloria Cheng performed Gershwin's "Cuban Overture" and Copland's "Danzon Cubano," both written before the island nation's revolution. Aurelio de la Vega, a Cuban exile and Los Angeleno for many years, was represented by his wonderful 1995 "Canciones Transparentes," settings of poems by the celebrated 19th century poet-revolutionary Jose Marti. Sung luminously by Ketchum, these pieces show a felicitous, quasi-Romantic marriage of text and music.
A surprise treat Sunday was Leon's "Paisano Semos!," a short, sweet, pungent solo guitar work performed beautifully by Randy Pile. Dedicated to the farming life, the piece teems with poetry and subtle bursts of Cuban rhythm. It ends with a delicate passage of harmonics, evoking an image of seeds gently popping open.
(Another Los Angeles Times review also singles out the same solo guitar piece and gives favorable mention to a guitar concerto by Leo Brouwer, performed the previous night by Randy Pile with the New West Symphony.)
“With admiration and delight I have heard Randy Pile… and affirm with confidence his international capabilities."
"Pile’s guitar playing is communicative and sensitive, especially in the rapid, flamenco sections of pieces by Rodrigo and Villa-Lobos."
Berlioz said, "I don't need to play the piano. I have my own orchestra: in my guitar case." If you think that strange you should have heard classical guitarist Randy Pile (Methodist Centre on Tuesday). His opening Grande Overture by Guilani was a mastery of beat and melody, harmony and varied timbres from a great player, who brought his own art collection with him to charm. And charm he did, first with mazurka and waltz, then he showed just how international the guitar can be with music from Italy and Brazil, Venezuela and a highlaight from Russia before wooing us with music by the master, Rodrigo, in a virtuoso set of pieces describing the Spanish countryside and customs. Great listening and watching, with some of the audience creeping up the aisle to sit on the floor for an even closer admiring look.
Romero returned to Victoria for his fourth appearance with the VGS and was joined by Pile who has performed extensively with Los Romeros and in duo with Pepe. Both artists were in top form in both duo and solo selections where sound quality, projection, and unity of musicianship were evident in every measure. Romero performed on a newly completed instrument by Dake Traphagen while Pile played a seasoned Miguel Rodriguez. Despite the differences in instruments, both players melded into one large, faultlessly balanced sound. This is no small feat considering that many world class guitar duos lack projection - but Romero and Pile achieved a striking synthesis of musicality and impressive communication.
Isaac Albeniz' Granada ushered in the evening in a duo arrangement by Romero, played with suberb sensitivity. Pile then performed a set of pieces by Joaquin Rodrigo: Tiento Antiguo, Pequena Sevillana (from Tres Piezas Pequenas), and En Tierras de Jerez. The Tiento was given a warm, impressionistic treatment while the rasgeados in the Sevillana where crisp and precise. En Tierras de Jerez' difficult passage-work was executed with stretches and arpeggios sounding natural and unforced. Pile possesses an agile technique coupled with a rich, warm sound, which he used to great effect in this set. Pepe Romero returned to the stage to perform the Serenata Espanola of Joaquin Malats, his arrangement of Albeniz' Sevilla, and Celedonio Romero's Suite Andaluza. What more can be added to descriptions of Romero's playing? The marvelous control, effusive musicianship and wonderful spirit - trademarks of his playing - were in abundance all evening. Romero is larger-than-life in every respect: musically, technically and as a human being. His playing is perhaps best described as 'generous perfection' and his reputation as today's finest player is well deserved.
After intermission, Pile returned to deliver an energetic Gran Solo Op. 14 of Fernando Sor. The work begins with a grand slow introduction and evolves into a real tour de force, in Pile's hands both the expressive and virtuostic aspects of the piece were given equal footing in this fine performance. Pile is a guitarist of power and perceptiveness with an apparently perfect technique. Maestro Romero then played Federico Moreno-Torroba's lovely Suite Castellana, drawing affectionate applause. The evening drew to a close with two duo arrangements of Enrique Granados: and Intermezzo and Danza No. 5 in arrangements by Pepe. This gorgeous reading brought the evening to a close with several encores given by Romero and Pile. We look forward to hearing both artists again in Victoria - muchos gracias Randy and Pepe!
Randy Pile’s ambitiously titled program, “Story of the Guitar,” was unlike anything that has been presented at the Orange County Guitar Circle before. The most outstanding feature was the staging: A 12-foot wide by 7-foot tall canvas “book” provided the backdrop for the performer, while a piano bench, draped with a Spanish shawl, served as both music stand and table for wine and candles. Lighting for the performer consisted of a single spotlight on a tall stand, and the bench on which Mr. Pile sat concealed colored lights that illuminated the backdrop and shifted colors to suit the mood of the music.
As the program began, the backdrop was shrouded in black. The artist explained the sonata-allegro form as it applied to his first work, Grand Solo, Op 14, of Fernando Sor. This is a large scale and demanding work, which he played with sweetness and an effective leggiero feel. In his “Story,” this work represented “the recital.”
The black shroud came off the backdrop revealing a slightly surrealistic painting of a parlor – a chair, a clock, a window, a settee, beginning a section representing “the dance.” This was a lively performance of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Mazurka-Choro and Antonio Lauro’s Valses Venezolanos, which he imbued with a lively South American spirit.
The last dance was the always enjoyable Usher Waltz by contemporary Russian composer Nikita Koshkin. Mr. Pile related in graphic detail the tale woven by Edgar Allan Poe of the demise of the house of Usher, with particular emphasis on the physical cracking of the house itself. His playing did a wonderful job of conveying Koshkin’s flight of musical madness, and two theatrical touches midway through the work (at its maniacal peak) added to the effect: Mr. Pile, needing to turn the page on his score, dramatically flung half the score onto the floor without missing a beat. Then, by means of a cleverly cut piece of jagged black felt, a crack began to appear in the surrealistic backdrop, widening as it worked its way slowly down from the top of the set. The audience loved it!
We returned from intermission to a new backdrop, an impressionistic European street scene. This set the mood for the second half of the program, titled “The Genius of Joaquín Rodrigo.”
Mr. Pile had a personal relationship with the famous composer, who died just last year. In his conversations with Rodrigo, he gained special insights into the composer’s works. The combination of the mystical and the folkloric was Rodrigo’s specialty, and was clearly evident in the first work, Tiento antiguo. Without pause, Mr. Pile went straight into Tres pequeñas piezas, which depicted a pilgrimage of the shepherds, the streets of Santiago, and a late night gypsy fiesta.
Among the most effective performances of the evening were the two works of Por los campos de España: En tierras de Jerez and the demanding En los trigales. Our performer then introduces Rodrigo’s last major work for solo guitar, Un tiempo fue Itáica famosa (at one time Itálica was famous). This work, spiced with demanding scales and flashy rasgueados, was given an appropriately passionate performance.
The final work on the program was the Sonata a la Española. In his conversations with the maestro, Mr. Pile learned there were two versions of the programmatic nature of the work. In the public version, Rodrigo indicated it was an ironic take on the Spanish people and society. But he privately admitted that he viewed the work as the story of the tribulations of a blind man (himself) sneaking to the refrigerator in the middle of the night! Regardless of intent, the piece was wonderful, ending with exciting, crowd-pleasing rasgueados.
With relatively simple props and staging, Randy Pile has added a new dimension to the classical guitar recital. This “thinking outside the box” will no doubt serve as inspiration to others, making the recital experience richer for us all. Our sincere thanks to Mr. Pile for a wonderful evening of learning and entertainment.
“Randy Piles Them In” at Music on The Divide
Classical guitarist Randy Pile performed in front of a full-to-capacity audience offering works by six unique composers. Compositions by Giuliani, Rodrigo, Coste, Koshkin, Villa-Lobos and Turina were interpreted with Mr. Pile’s impeccable touch enabling the audience to see and hear effects which could previously only be imagined. The dexterity exhibited when playing Giuliani’s Grand Ouverture, Op. 61, was pure poetry in motion. Finger-work between the frets was light, exact and seemingly effortless.
His “staged recital” was complimented by colorful backdrops and sequential lighting effects which enhanced the presentation. Prior to performing Joaquín Rodrigo’s Tiento antiguo (ancient fantasy), our artist related that the composer himself was a nearly blind non guitarist. Upon listening to the composition, one has difficulty thinking such beautiful harmonies could not have been composed on a guitar. Randy further related that he had the honor of performing this work for the composer, at Rodrigo’s Madrid home prior to his death in 1999.
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”, was the backdrop for Nikita Koshkin’s work The Usher Waltz. This performance embellishes the mania present in the character who played a guitar while strange occurrences permeated the Usher household. As his mania deepened, he frenzy showed itself in spectacular fits of discord and intonation all interpreted perfectly by Pile. The accompanying backdrop depicted a surreal scene with a house overlay manipulated by Pile’s assistant, therein the house fell to the bottom of the panel and the music crescendoed to its frantic climax.
Villa-Lobos’ three part “New World Exploration,” was decidedly Latin, reflecting its Brazilian origin. This writer detected a Habanera lilt as the work was performed.
Turina’s Sonata, Op. 61 was an exercise in multiple dexterity’s. The left-hand reaches Pile had to accomplish when fingering the chords and melody notes, caused him to extend his thumb and pinkie as far as they would reach. Arpeggios abounded.
This program will also be presented to our local school children thanks to partial underwriting by the California Arts Council. Ole!
The most unusual concert of the festival was presented by Randy Pile, "A Staged Recital." Pile led the audience through pieces by Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, Sor and Sabicas with engaging monologues and anecdotes based on the lives and cultures of the composers. Somewhere between a music recital and performance art, Pile's approach is a fresh alternative to the traditional guitar concert, which should help in the effort to bring a new audience to the concert hall.
Randy Pile gave a captivating performance of pieces by Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, and Sabicas. His use of props, spoken monologues and lighting effects added interest and depth to the aural experience of the music.