Peter Fletcher’s Blog: Unveiling the Beauty and Stories of Classical Guitar
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Marcel Proust – “Swann’s Way” (Scott Moncrieff translation)
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A few days ago I finished reading this very important work of great literature. What can I say about this plumb that has not been said before, and can easily be found on the internet or from the numerous commentaries which have been published over the years? It is a book that I have thought about reading for many, many years, and felt that June 1 was a good time to take it on. I think that I was first introduced to the name Proust back when i was an undergraduate, by way of Artur Rubinstein (who lamented not being able to read his beloved Proust and Joyce after going blind, in his later years).
As everyone knows, this is the first of seven volumes. It is like nothing I have ever read before, with it’s unbelievably long descriptions and sometimes confusing time-line. The name of the narrator is never revealed, although it should appear in later volumes. The denseness of the prose was overwhelming and it was easy to get bogged down. Almost every time I read a paragraph, I felt that I needed to re-read it. It is slow reading, and a book which needs to be re-visited over and
Proust has many things to say about the past, such as this excerpt:
“And so it is with our own past. It is a labor in vain to attempt to re-capture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that intellect, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.”
Also, consider this:
“The facts of life do not penetrate to the sphere in which our beliefs are cherished…”
Quite a few ideas were presented in regard to art, music and literature. I was delighted to see Franz Liszt’s “St. Francis Preaching to a Flock of Birds” – a work I have loved for years, and discovered on my own (thank you Alfred Brendel). That Proust would have it be a viable part of the novel puts a smile on my face – great minds think alike!
In addition the book bears directly on all sorts of psychological issues (such as separation anxiety), Truth and Beauty,
the class system in fin de siecle France, family life, sadism, and many varieties and permutations of love. All of this was laid out in a very, very deep and thorough way, with paragraphs that sometimes went on for several pages.
“Proust creates an interior monologue that features stream-of-consciousness and time shifting.” These techniques can also be found in Faulkner, Joyce and Conrad.
So, what did this book mean to me personally? It’s hard to say, because it was so dense. Never in my life have i been presented with so much information in the way of detail. I would have to say that it confirmed some of my beliefs and attitudes, and helped me look at certain things in a new light, such as distant memories and the feelings associated with these memories. It is primarily a book of feeling – a heart book rather than a head book
How Proust Can Change Your Life is a book that several of my friends have read and recommended. One does not need to read Proust to enjoy this particular book.
Challenging as it was, it made for engaging reading, and I look forward to the next volume, “In a Budding Grove.”
Beautiful Spanish Guitar
by pfletcher | 1 Comment
Last November I had the very good fortune and the rare honor of playing a remarkable instrument, the Ramirez 3339, at the Guitar Salon in Santa Monica, CA.
As a rule I have never been a great fan of the world-renowned Ramirez instruments, although I love all of Christopher Parkening’s EMI recordings, Julian Bream’s Romantic Guitar album on the RCA Victor Gold Seal label, and the sound of almost all the recordings maestro Segovia made in the 1960s.
In addition, in the Spring of 1985, I attended a Segovia concert in Charleston, SC, and when he played the descending melodic line of Villa-Lobos’s Prelude No. 3 the audience literally melted. Never in my life have I seen such an intensely powerful effect on an audience. My mother drove me to the concert from Atlanta, and after this piece was over we looked at each other, and my mother said “that was unbelievably beautiful.” Parkening has shared similar experiences, and the instrument cannot be discounted.
However, the Ramirez guitar was never the right instrument for me.
In 1987, Christopher Parkening gave me first option of purchasing a beautiful Ramirez guitar which he owned and played. The occasion was Parkening’s Masterclass in Montana, and Mr. Parkening was kind enough to allow me to play his guitar for my two lessons with him. Mr. Parkening, and several of the students at the class, felt very strongly that I should own this guitar.
Moreover, in 1995, Jim Sherry invited me to his original shop in downtown Chicago, where I played several of his Ramirez guitars, all of them pre-1974 (for what that is worth).
All of these guitars, especially the one owned by Parkening, were excellent. However, my feeling was that although the treble was always exquisite, the bass did not have the clarity that I desired, especially for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Also, I was always disappointed with the mid-range. I was interested in a more well-rounded guitar, and I did not wish to sacrifice all aspects of tone for an extremely warm and sweet treble.
In addition, the Ramirez guitar had become the official instrument of the likes of Segovia. Parkening and Liona Boyd – all international stars – and I wanted to create my own original path. I searched for my own luthier – someone to get to know and grow with.
My opinion changed when I played the Ramirez 3339. Immediately I was drawn to the sui generis sound of this particular guitar. It had the typical gorgeous, sweet tone in the treble, the mid-range did not sound nasal, in fact it was velvety,
And – to my total surprise – the bass was as clear as any spruce top guitar. This instrument was easy and delightful to play – I was not strained by the long string length. I felt at one with the instrument.
The Ramirez 3339 is the greatest instrument I have ever played.
Please see a video of me playing this guitar on the Guitar Salon Blog – http://www.guitarsalon.com/blog/?p=15736
Samadi-Keene Duo at the Spectrum NYC
by pfletcher | 3 Comments
It has been quite a while since I have contributed to this blog, and I intend to be more prolific in 2015. I endeavor to give my thoughts on performances that I am able to attend and my personal views on literature, as reading is my great love outside of music. The occupation of a performer who tries to nurture a wide range of works leaves little room for the discipline of writing. A great deal of the musical performances I have attended and will attend in the future, mostly on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, will not appear in this blog. My attitudes, feelings and beliefs on most of the classical guitar repertoire that I actually perform and record will remain unwritten as long as I am able to put forward my arguments as a practicing musician, by playing the guitar.
Be that as it may, I had the good fortune of attending a recital by the Samadi-Keene Duo last week. The initial reason for attending was to hear the world premier of a work by David Mitchell, whom I grew up with, played duets with and eventually went to college with in Atlanta. We were both students of John Sutherland. Also, piano/guitar duos are extremely rare.
I was intrigued.
The venue seemed to be in the living-room of a rather large home on the Lower East Side (the last cool neighborhood in New York City). The audience, mostly young, were seated on comfortable sofas. High-end sound equipment was pervasive and we were literally surrounded by an impressive book collection, neatly organized on wall to wall shelves. It was the perfect place for two instrumentalists to make music, and this was the sort of thing that certain American families did to keep themselves entertained by the fire in the years before television put a bullet into the national brain.
The first half of the program was devoted to “The Classical Era in Vienna.” Generous portions of Anton Diabelli, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Mauro Giuliani were presented with rather pristine and careful, however stylistically correct readings. Personally I feel that a little goes a long way with guitar music from this era, and maybe it would have been a good idea if the first half was titled “Music of Two Centuries” with, in addition to one or two of the classical sets, a major Baroque offering. Johann Sebastian Bach would be the obvious choice, but doubtless there exist some suites by perhaps such masters as Handel, Pachelbel, Purcell, Sweelinck, Buxtehude or Vivaldi that would sit well on the guitar.
It would have given the program a more three-dimensional quality, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I simply wanted to hear what such polished musicians could do with music from the Baroque Period.
After the intermission we were treated to “Works of the 20th and 21st Century.”
The Fantasie, Op. 145 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was my favorite piece on the program. This composer, one of the most important in the development of classical guitar in the 20th Century, wrote countless solo works for Segovia and a popular guitar concerto. Almost every classical guitarist has played his music at least one point of his or her life, and he is quite famous for his gorgeous slow movements.
David Mitchell’s Lake Avondale: A Beautiful Day, is also a beautiful piece. This might be my second favorite on the program. It begins with an effective use of a glass bottle rubbed across the guitar strings, and then gives way to a series of absorbing melodies, all with a tonal center.
There is a short percussion section on the actual guitar which works great, but I think I could have done without the guitarist snapping his fingers and the pianist clapping her hands.
Bravo David! I did not know that you had it in you when we were chums back in the 90s. I would love to hear this piece again, and will seek out your other works.
The concert ended with Fantasie by Hans Haug – a remarkable piece which is almost never performed.
Guitarist Dan Keene has a solid technique and a truly great instinct for ensemble music. He has an amazing right hand, and his warm tone can be listened to forever. He took great pains to use different tone colors, and for this I admire him tremendously. He was always at ease with everything he was doing and I do not think he ever played a wrong note.
If seen through the lens of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Apollonian and Dionysian duality, his interpretations would lean more toward Apollo’s approach to the art of sculpture. Perhaps I could have heard a little more passion and blood-and-guts in the first half of the program, but in the second half he was right on the money.
Equally impressive was pianist Kristin Samadi, whose understanding of and sensitivity to the soft, intimate voice of the guitar cannot be matched. Never in my life have I heard a pianist better matched with classical guitar. She has a light touch which always resonates well, and her phrasing was not only beautiful but intelligent, original and convincing.
She also happens to be easy on the eyes.
Together, these two musicians have the ability to breathe life into music – an ability which can never be taken for granted. This holds true today as well as in the past.
What a lovely and memorable evening.
Mrs. Samadi and Mr. Keene are serious about their craft. There is talk of a debut CD, and this is a duo to look out for.
Happy New Year!
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Last night, to ring in the new year, I had dinner at Petrossian, the famous caviar house located on 58th street and Seventh Avenue. Since it was my first time, I ordered the pre fixe and the food was nothing short of excellent, almost as good as the service. I love the art deco and tasteful use of mirrors. There is not a bad table in the house.
Reading-wise: I am about to finish “Absalom, Absalom!” by William Faulkner. This is a truly great book which moved me very deeply. For me this is Faulkner book no. 6, and the one which has impacted me the most. The book IS readable, albeit dense and heavy — I would suggest reading slowly and patiently. The Chronology and Genealogy, which Faulkner offers at the end, are not necessary (i.e., everything you need to know eventually appears in the book proper) and should not be consulted until the end to avoid spoilers.