Music Review: Guitar Ensemble

By Peter Jacobi

 

As a performance highlight of this past weekend’s 2014 Indiana International Guitar Festival and Competition, the Indiana University Jacobs School’s Guitar Department unveiled a new ensemble, and a mighty good one it is.

Simply called the Guitar Ensemble, the dozen members introduced themselves in an Auer Hall concert Saturday evening, performing music of great difficulty with an assurance that should be reserved for far more mature collectives.

The reason, in great part, must be the group’s young director, Daniel Duarte, who not only trained and conducted the musicians but prepared arrangements for them to show off their technical abilities and musicality.

So, when the ensemble first took the stage, it focused on Vivaldi, the Presto from the Concerto in G Minor, Opus 8, No. 2, but it was Vivaldi as arranged by Daniel Duarte. And when they played Astor Piazzolla’s “Verano Porteno,” once again the arrangement was by Duarte. So, too, a Tango Suite built from Julio Cesar Oliva’s “Nostalgia del Rio de la plata,” a Panchos Suite of vocals accompanied by guitars, and an exciting work of contemporary nature, Paulo Bellinari’s “A furiosa.”

Duarte is obviously a gifted arranger, with a sensitive feel for how to mesh the classical guitar with music not always written for the instrument or in need of special handling. But he has at his disposal a talented set of musicians who already can do wonders together with their guitars. In music of Vivaldi and Fernando Sor, they found, respectively, the Baroque and Classic styles. In the Piazzolla and the Tango Suite, they reflected that distinctive dance. The Panchos Suite was a delight: three guitarists joined by a couple of baritones and a tenor (Francisco Ortega, Rafael Campos and Bruno Sandes) who squeezed every ounce of flavor and panache from three pop songs that begged for over-the-top interpretations and received them.

The ensemble finished the evening with Leo Brouwer’s “Acerca del cielo el aire y la sonrisa,” a complex and exotic exercise by a contemporary Cuban master of the instrument and genre, and an encore, just as difficult and challenging, “Berimbeau” by two Brazilians, composer Vinicius de Moraes and guitarist Baden Powell. The readings were stunning.

One looks forward to the Guitar Ensemble’s future.

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