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In the lobby of the A. J. Fletcher building, before Evening Concert II of the East Carolina University Summer Guitar Workshop, a luthier was showing several guitars, and various attendees of the workshop were trying them out. Not a moment too soon, the players yielded the floor to one promising young player, who treated everyone to multiple performances (at least one performance on each of several guitars) of the prelude to Bach’s Partita III, S. 1006. As the audience began to assemble in the lobby, it was clear that this was an unusual group of otherwise absolutely straightforward men and a few women, all between 14 and 30, all casually dressed in the style of their age in t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops, all typically testosterone-charged and very closely focused on guitars. By curtain time, the hall, which seats about 275, was over two-thirds full; there were less than a dozen townies in the audience, so different from the mostly gray audiences typical in Hendersonville or New Bern.
When the first performer of the evening came on stage and appeared ready to play, a powerful, complete silent hush fell over the audience. It was really good to see so many young people so eager to hear the music. This intense focus pervaded the whole concert.
The first performer was Douglas James, Director of Guitar Studies and Appalachian Guitar Fest at Appalachian State University. Proclaiming his specialty, he came on stage with a double-necked ten-string guitar thought to be Viennese, circa 1840. The extra four notes (compared to a modern guitar) reach from the bridge to the nut and tuning pegs of the second neck, which has no fingerboard, as these bass strings are always sounded open. The sound of the instrument was soft and mellow. The instrument, delightful as it was, would undoubtedly have sounded better in a smaller room more suited to its scale.
James’s program was Johann Kaspar Mertz’s Orgelfuge, arranged from a work by Albrechtsberger; an Allemande and Courante arranged from Bach’s solo violin sonatas; Mauro Giuliani’s Variations on a March by Cherubini; Giulio Regondi’s Nocturne Reverie, Op. 19, and Mertz’s Fantaisie Hongroise, Op. 65, No. 1. The playing was competent, with much life and fire in the last Cherubini/Giuliani variation. The Nocturne Reverie was deliciously dreamy, a dangerously soporific offering to a well-fed old reviewer.
When Jason Vieaux (Head of the Cleveland Institute of Music Guitar Department) came on stage, there was an understandable heightening of appreciative tension. He sat down, put his foot up on a very elevated skate, wrapped his arms and body around his guitar like a lover, and shared his love affair with the guitar with us.
He opened with Isaac Albéniz’s “Cuba,” from Suite Española, Op. 47. He played from memory, in a strong, assured style. Next was "Torre Bermeja" from Albéniz’s Seranata. Vieaux’s fiery passion forcefully enriched this piece.
An old friend to this reviewer came next, Bach’s Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro, S. 998, fair game alike for lute (guitar), harpsichord, or the strange thing called by Bach lautenwerk or lute-harpsichord, and to players ranging from Landowska to Leonhardt to this reviewer. Vieaux introduced a perfect hesitation between the chordal and style brisé parts of the fugue. His chords marched happily along against the coloratura line. He slid subito into the Allegro, a very nice interpretation.
After the Bach, Vieaux sat on his chair, both feet on the floor, elbows on his knees, guitar in his lap, and leaned forward and in a warm and personable way told the audience about how he had constructed a baroque suite from several Pat Metheny songs. This was a chat instead of a snooty lecture and was well-received by the audience. From Metheny’s songs “Last Train Home,” “Question and Answer,” and “James,” Vieaux arranged a Prelude, a Gavotte and Double, and a Gigue. He got the arrangement just right, with a performance to equal.
His final listed piece, another of his own arrangements, this time of Metheny’s “The Bat,” left the audience with no doubts about his personal warmth or his consummate musicianship, not just as a player, but as an arranger and as a master of putting together a successful program.