Tomorrow Night in Cambridge

Tomorrow night we play a program entitled “Evocation” at Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church in Cambridge. We’re really looking forward to seeing our Boston area fans for the first time in a while. We’re also very excited about this new program.

In a way we are getting back to our roots with this program. It has a good helping of Spanish classical guitar music, Albeniz and Granados in classic arrangements by Miguel Llobet. These arrangements are full of the flair and tricks of the old style romantic virtuoso, shimmering harmonics, extensive and expert glissandi and portamenti (or sliding around from one note to the next for those unfamiliar with the lingo), every chord voiced perfectly to make the guitars glow. Miguel Llobet really knew how to make the guitar sing. Sadly his music and arrangements are rarely played today, considered today to be a little old fashioned. We’re starting the revival and you can come hear it tomorrow in Cambridge.

As much as the program is an evocation of Spain, it is also an homage to the classical guitarists who have inspired an influenced us. We’ve included a piece by Andres Segovia, a divertimento for guitar duo. There is also a piece by Segovia’s student and our teacher Phillip de Fremery, “Music After Lorca” a haunting work inspired by Flamenco and the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca. Originally a solo that de Fremery composed through improvisation, we have added our own duo parts through a similar improvisatory process. Also look out for our version of the guitar’s single most beloved work, Francisco Tarrega’s “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” and our own arrangements of some less well known, but equally beautiful music by Federico Mompou.

Lastly, the program features two very recent works for guitar duo by composers who we have had the pleasure of meeting and working with personally. Frank Wallace is a guitarist we’ve known of and admired for many years. We’re very pleased to include a delightful set of short pieces “Sketches for Two” on the program. Maestro Wallace is a master painter with the colors of the guitar and his wide array of musical interests, from early music to modern, all come through in his distinct musical voice. Oh and did we mention that this concert contains a world premiere of a new piece written for us. You will not want to miss this intriguing little piece called “Spectral Lines” by Joel Roston. The piece is a strange jungle that we have only just entered. Come explore with us!


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Duo Orfeo, Andres Segovia and electric guitars

When asked about electric guitars, Andrés Segovia, the 20th century’s greatest classical guitarist, famously called them an abomination:“Whoever heard of an electric violin?” he went on to say. “An electric cello? Or for that matter an electric singer?” Although technologies have, of course, rendered much of this speculation obsolete, let us not dismiss Segovia, for his legacy lies at the heart of this project, spun so pellucidly from the very medium he rejected. Such considerations are far from lost on the Duo Orfeo, who, having both studied extensively Phillip de Fremery, a Segovia pupil and a true curator of his legacy, consciously plant their sonic activities in the same fertile soil. Not only are they turning music they love into a vibrant, nascent art, but more importantly they bring a distinctly Segovian touch to the introspection of their tone and depth of melodic line. When Segovia began his lifelong interest in transcription, the guitar was not considered worthy of the role. Here we find ourselves at a similar turning point: the electric guitar as a legitimate mouthpiece for translating preexisting works into a wholly new language. Yet even beyond the technical are those less effable aspects of the music itself, and of the inspiration that keeps those aspects aflame. Where Segovia actualized that inspiration through the magic of his articulation, Duo Orfeo find it also through their articulation of magic. We hear this in the program they have assembled, and in the sensitivity and focus with which they play it. In so doing, they enliven the lesser heard. They are, I daresay, Segovia’s elusive electric singer incarnate.

Tyran Grillo

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A brief history of “I sing the body electric”

As you may know, on April 14th we are going to release our new album of modern classical music played on electric guitars. It is called, “I sing the body electric” Now that this project is leaving the incubation stage and going out on it’s own into the world, I will share with you a brief timeline of how it all came to be—from conception to completion in just two years. It has been truly remarkable.

March 2010 – We first have the idea of playing classical music on electric guitars.

June 2010 – We found and began to play the first piece which really “worked” on electric guitars, one of the Silent Songs of Valentin Silvestrov.

December 3rd, 2010 – We have our first public performance on electric guitars at La Paloma Sabanera in Hartford, Connecticut.

April 11th, 2011 We premiere our arrangements of the music of Arvo Part to a huge and enthusiastic crowd at the Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn.

June 2011 – We decide to try to record an album of electric guitar music in 2011-2012.

August 2011 – In addition to preparing for my wedding which took place on August 27th (yes, during Hurricane Irene!) I found the time over the rest of the summer to complete all the arrangements of the music for the projected album.

September 12, 2011 – I knew I would need help on many aspects of this album. I wanted to work with someone who could be more than just a recording engineer. I wanted someone who knew the music, who was creative enough to understand the new sound we were going for and who would be just as passionate about this project as we were. I found that person in Peter Blanchette. I had known and loved for years his extensive catalog of self-produced recordings of music for the archguitar and other ensembles and had only recently made his acquaintance. We happen to live in the same neighborhood in Northampton, MA and on this warm September night we walked around the block about 20 times and discussed our ideas for the album. I was very fortunate to have been able to convince him to sign on to the project as producer.

October 13th-15th, 2011 – Three all night recording sessions with Peter produced the raw material that would become “I sing the body electric”. Thanks to Tristan Chambers for the session photography and for bringing us pizza and beer and to my wife Shana for the chocolate chip cookies (I think they were the best I’ve ever tasted).

November 2011-January 2012– This was not a time of idleness. Peter and I spent well over 100 hours in the studio editing, mixing and mastering the album. I was amazed by Peter’s genius in this part of the process (not to mention his generosity with his time and energy). To be a part of this was an incredible learning experience as slowly each of the 15 pieces on this album took shape and became even better than I ever dreamed they would be. I also must thank my wife Shana who, at every stage of this process listened to the album with me (probably hundreds of times) and provided invaluable feedback on many aspects, in particular, track order.

November 2nd – December 11th – Our fans old and new help us raise 5,656 $ on Kickstarter, without which this whole thing might not have been possible.

December 8th 2011 – Somewhere in Estonia Arvo Part himself listen to our version of his “Spiegel im Spiegel” and nodded his head in approval. We were incredibly thrilled when we heard this and were happy to incorporate a few subtly brilliant suggestions that he made for our arrangement into the final mix.

February 8th 2012 – At around 2 pm, Peter Blanchette shows up at my door looking tired. He had been up since 8pm the previous night working non-stop on the final master of “ I sing the body electric” which he handed to me.

February 27th, 2012 – After receiving from Tyran Grillo (who not only writes all of our program notes, but is also a constant source of inspiration with his listening suggestions—it was Tyran who introduced me to the music of Sivestrov) the luminous liner notes for the album and completing all the other art and design aspect of the album, I send the whole thing off to the presses.

March 16th, 2012 – On a road trip to a brief tour of performances of our electric guitar program, we stop at the Discmakers plant in New Jersey and pick up the final product!

April 14th, 2012 – We release the album the world and let’s hope even more exciting things happen from there.

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Duo Orfeo on the road – Newark, NJ: 11-9-11 “La Descente d’Orphee Aux Enfers”

The spendid Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart appeared unexpectedly as we meandered the streets of Newark. We parked by a side door and went in. A large, well-dressed and well-spoken man greeted us, and, insead of ushering us into the sanctum sanctorum of one of the largest Cathedrals in the western hemishere, opened a small door marked “Stairs”

“This leads to the Crypt,” He explained. “where you’ll be playing.” We descended a flight of stairs to a dimly lit room filled with relics of last year’s nativity scene. I detected a musty smell and heard the sighing of massive heating pipes. “This, of course, isn’t the public entrance,” our guide assured us.

We followed John (that was the name of our Virgil) through a series of passageways and doors. Some were so low we had to duck. All the while we listened as he named the former Bishops and even Archbishops that were interred in this Crypt. To be honest, I wasn’t paying much attention to that. I was trying, in vain, to keep track of the rights and lefts that we took and to identify landmarks so I could find my way back out if need be.

The Crypt was pleasant enough, in fact quite elegant. It was a spacious stone chamber with a high vaulted ceiling. There was a central altar, a painting of a radiant and very approachable-looking Jesus, 100 or so chairs surrounding, and two chairs in the center for us.

“You will start playing at noon.” Our guide announced. “I will introduce you. Hmmm… Well, it’s 9:30 now, so you’ve got a few hours to kill.” With that he vanished and left us alone in the Crypt with the former Bishops and even Archbishops of New Jersey.

Ignoring a growing feeling of unease, I told Jamie that I was going to find my way back up to the car to grab something I had forgotten. This was going well enough, someone had drawn arrows in chalk on the walls to help someone in my position. I passed an elderly Janitor who smiled at me knowingly. Then I got a little lost. The arrows seemed to point in conflicting directions. My landmarks were useless. I was lost in a labrynth of pipes, dusty statues of the Virgin and unused vestry wardrobes. One corridor I was exploring became dark and the only way forward was on a small wooden plank suspended over as chasm, the dimensions of which were obscured in darkness. It was at this point that I began to lose touch with reality. Was I really in the basement of a cathedral in Newark or was I still in bed in my hotel room having an awful nightmare? For a moment I really wasn’t sure.

I was brough back to sanity by the familiar sound of Jamie’s guitar, not too distant, playing his part of one of the pieces we were about to perform. I found my way back to the Crypt, forgetting my errand to the car.

It turned out that the acoustics in the space were incredible. The room added an uncanny glow to the notes, subtly amplifying and warming the sound of our guitars. It was really amazing, probably one of the best spaces I’ve ever played in.

Totally hypnotized by the new resonances we were hearing in our playing, we began improvsing baroque cadences in the style of Marc Antoine Charpentier (whose opera Le Descente de Orphee aux Enfers we had been listening to repeatedly in the car – recorded by William Christie and Les Arts Florrisants, GORGEOUS ). Doing this we must have lost track of time because we were roused from our reverie by the entrance of some early audience members.

Our heads still swirling, we retreated to a little room and waited for the rest of of the  audience to arrive. I was so excited to play. Our program was to be all French Baroque. The combination of the sound of our guitars in that room and the fact that my head was full of our improvisations in the same style made me ready to experience these pieces (which we have played countless times) in a totally fresh way. This is always when the best music making happens, so I knew that this was going to be exactly the kind of performing experience that I live for.

John returned and, as promised, introduced us and we walked out. I was thrilled to find that it was a full Crypt! We started playing, the music flowed, the audience was smiling or closing their eyes, everyone was in it, and it was over too fast.

No more nightmare scenarios to round out this tale. We finished our program, made our bows, chatted with the audience and sold some CDs. We went out with the audience through their exit, which was considerably simpler than our entrance, just a short, well lit passageway of carved stone, and a large door that opened into the blessed sunlight.

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New York Musings

There was a good hour of arranging gear on stage, I think, before I noticed that the floor was actually a pool of dark water.  If you’ve been to Galapagos Art Space, on the banks of the East River in Brooklyn, then maybe you were also surprised to notice that between the stage and the bar is a pool, over which the audience sits at tables situated on metal islets.  Joe and I were there to play a concert in collaboration (of sorts) with the kinetic sculptor Arthur Ganson.  We shared the bill with pianist Oni Buchanan and trombone quartet Guidonian Hand – each of us playing to the accompaniment of Arthur’s remarkable mechanic sculptures.  There was some trial and error in figuring how best to show off these machines to the audience.  As Joe and I waited to soundcheck, Arthur set up his machines a few feet away – actually this one.  A video doesn’t quite do it justice:  seen up close, the sheer number and variety of moving parts is astounding.

This machine accompanied our arrangements of two works by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt – Fratres and Spiegel im Spiegel – for electric guitar duo.  These pieces represent a new development for us, and we’re very excited about them – they’ll definitely find their way onto future programs.  Before that were arrangements of Francis Poulenc’s Mouvements Perpetuels and Satie’s Crooked Dances, and piece by Steve Reich called Nagoya Guitars.  In keeping with the spirit of our mechanical stagemates, all the music played with the idea of perpetual motion, here frantically, there with austerity.  All told, a totally enjoyable night!  Our thanks to Arthur, Oni, and Guidonian, to the Ariel Artists folks for bringing it all together, and to Galapagos for their expertise and free drink tickets.


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Re-awakening the decadent music of the French Baroque harpsichordist Jacques Duphly on guitars.

I first encountered and fell in love with the music of the French Baroque though the film “Tout le Matin du Monde.”    Based loosely on true events,  it is about a reclusive master of the viola de gamba named Saint Colombe and his pupil Marin Marais.  Saint Colombe reluctantly guides the immensely gifted young Marais to virtuosity on the instrument, but ends the apprenticeship suddenly, believing the music of his pupil to be without depth or soul. Marin Marais chooses a glamorous life as court musician to the King of France while Saint Colombe sequesters himself in a shed by his home with his instrument, his manuscript book and visions of his deceased wife. Finding court life musically empty, although he has achieved great fame, Marais begins to sneak back to the home of Saint Colombe at night, hiding under the shed and listening for hours, weeping.  After watching this film I was overwhelmed by a desire to play something on my guitar like the music Saint Colombe composed in his shed, (as played in the film by Jordi Savall) music of such sumptuous worldly beauty, suffused with melancholy and a quiet and simple yet direct emotional intensity. I had nothing like this to play.  I couldn’t imagine music written for the viola de gamba translating well to the guitar because the gamba is a bowed string instrument and the swelling notes created by the bowed string, so integral to the expressive power of the music, are not possible on a plucked string.

Years later, that is a few months ago, I began exploring music written for harpsichord by French composers of this period.  I found a lot of music that was huge, extravagant and bombastic and a lot that was small, exquisite, and cute, but again I found little that I felt would translate well to the sonority of the guitar and the Duo Orfeo sound in particular.  Now, I love the harpsichord as much as the next guy, but after listening to hours of recordings over several weeks it begins to wear on you. It was at this point of harpsichord saturation that I was sitting in the studio where I teach guitar lessons waiting for a student to arrive that I put on a CD of solo harpsichord music by Jacques Duphly, played by Katherine Roberts Perl. It was the last thing I expected at that moment to be struck down by and the beauty of what I was hearing,  but that is exactly what happened.  What I heard was music of such crystalline decadence, such delicate elegance. It was all these things, but also honest and un-ironic in tone. It’s sadness that of fairy tale or a nursery rhyme.  It’s longing that of a doo-wop ballad. No great truths are revealed here yet it makes you feel something very deeply. I am reminded of nothing so much as the wonder and mystery of opening a music box as child when listening to the music of Duphly.

When my lessons were over I went to the music library and found the complete works of Jacques Duphly. It was a slim inconspicuous volume with a blue spine with gold lettering, buried in the stacks in a row of identical volumes of music by other forgotten composers. The book had never been checked out.

From this book I eventually chose three pieces to arrange for guitar duo, an Allemande, and two Rondeau–one in D minor entitled Tendre (tender) and one in D major entitled Gracieux (graceful). The two rondeau we have recently recorded to go along with this post. A rondeau, in this case, is a musical form in which a short section of music (the refrain) is introduced and reappears again after sections of new material (the couplets). This form is particularly appealing when the refrains (which are heard four times each in these rondeau) are so irresistible.

The details of the life of Jaques Duphly are of interest considering how I first became attracted to the French Baroque. He spent his early life as a church musician in the country, but later moved to Paris to pursue a career as harpsichordist. That career consisted of entertaining in the elite salons of Paris.  He played and taught for those who lived a life of leisure, the aristocracy and their milieu, yet never attained that status himself, although he certainly lived comfortably. In this rarified atmosphere he composed music  that was all refinement and style, unconcerned, even aloof from the greater world. History passed him by. Duphly died in 1789, the day after Bastille Day, hardly anyone knew he was still alive. He hadn’t written any music for almost 25 years.

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this one thing…

“In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many faceted only confuses me and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises and everything that is unimportant falls away…Here I am alone with silence. I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat,or a moment of silence, comforts me”

Arvo Part

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