New Classical Tracks: Los Angeles Guitar Quartet

May 25, 2010
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St. Paul, Minn. — The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (LAGQ) celebrates its 30th anniversary with a few musical firsts on its new release titled "Interchange." This is the quartet's first concerto recording, and it's the debut release for the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, which is led by David Amado. This new recording features one of the first concertos ever written for guitar quartet 45 years ago, as well as one of the newest, composed in 2008 specifically for the LAGQ, and recorded here for the first time.

The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet pays tribute to their mentors, Los Romeros, by opening their new recording with Rodrigo's "Concierto Andaluz." Rodrigo composed this concerto to mark the 10th anniversary of Los Romeros in 1965. It was Pepe Romero who first brought the LAGQ together -- at that time, four guitar students at the University of Southern California who were known then as the USC Guitar Quartet. In 1982 this young quartet was selected to perform in a master class for Joaquin Rodrigo himself.

Rodrigo's, "Concierto Andaluz," has long been in the repertoire of the LAGQ, so it's fitting that it be included on the their first concerto recording. While this work sounds as if it's quoting well-known Andalusian folk melodies, all of the music comes directly from Rodrigo's pen. Strummed chords and cascading scales open the lively tempo in the first movement. At times the string accompaniment imitates the sounds of castanets which may be a personal reference to Celedonio Romero's wife, Angelita, who was an accomplished castanet player and frequently joined Los Romeros on stage for encores. The moving Adagio is the heart of this work. A wistful melody is passed around the quartet and echoed by the winds. The climax occurs as the four members of the LAGQ perform an intricate and technically challenging cadenza, that wasn't included in the first edition of the concerto. Rodrigo added it later, at their request.

The LAGQ first met the Assad Brothers, Sergio and Odair, about the same time they played for Joaquin Rodrigo in that master class at USC. As a brilliant guitar duo, The Assads became a role model for the LAGQ, who were always seeking to explore new musical territories. Sergio Assad has since composed several works for the LAGQ, including the concerto titled "Interchange," which appears on this new release. The title of this piece comes from the "Four-level Interchanges" in downtown Los Angeles. Since all of the members of LAGQ live in Los Angeles, and they spend a lot of time on the road, Sergio Assad envisioned each of them being on their own musical highway. The concerto charts these four highways, which eventually come to a common meeting point in the final movement.

Each of the four movements represents the personality of an individual member of the LAGQ. The first movement, called, "Sephardic Passage," was written for Bill Kanengiser, whose musical passion spans everything from early music to world music. We hear a blending of Renaissance-type dances in this movement with Hebraic melodies to emphasize Bill's Jewish heritage. The second movement, "Gypsy Slopes," is for Scott Tennant, a tremendous fan of flamenco. Tennant also has family roots in the former Yugoslavia, so here the composer mixes Spanish traditional themes with Balkan music. The cadenza is pure flamenco allowing Tennant to really strut his stuff, as the other LAGQ members back him up. Matthew Greif, the newest member of the LAGQ, has brought his skills as a jazz artist to the group. Sergio Assad creates a jazz ballad in the third movement titled, "Pacific Overlook." In the true jazz tradition, Greif is given an opportunity to improvise a few melodic lines over the orchestra. The fourth movement highlights John Dearman's love of Brazilian music. "Forroblues Detour," features a type of rhythm from the northeast of Brazil which is very similar to American blues. John's solo cadenza stretches the possibilities of the seven-string guitar through a traditional Brazilian choro.

For the past 30 years, the LAGQ has been breaking new ground for the medium of the guitar quartet, recording everything from baroque, to tango--even John Philip Sousa. On "Interchange," they once again show their flair for interweaving various musical styles into their own unique sound.

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