On Sunday afternoon, November 11, the Division of Fine Arts of Brevard College presented a recital of music for ensembles that included guitarist Roger Allen Cope, who has taught at the college since 1999. (Cope also reviews and edits for Classical Voice of North Carolina, but has remained at arm’s length from this review*.)

The multi-talented Cope, who had as a youth performed on eleven other instruments, adopted guitar as his principal avenue of expression over 35 years ago. The Sunday event was labeled a 35th Anniversary Concert in recognition of Cope’s first public performance on his chosen instrument in November 1972 at the Community College in Florida where he was teaching at the time.

The acoustic guitar is a quiet instrument, providing delicate nuances that can be used to good advantage in ensemble situations, but only if the composer knows his business. The works programmed in this instance were for guitar and voice, guitar and flute, and multi-guitar ensembles, all combinations that work gracefully.

Haydn’s “London” Trio No. 1 has been performed by various instrumental combinations including, most commonly, two violins and cello but also by flute, violin, and cello or by two flutes with cello. For this performance, Cope was joined by guitarists Steven Walter of the Furman University faculty and Douglas James of Appalachian State University for a three-guitar rendition. With a purity of sound, they gave us an interpretation that was true to Haydn’s classical style.

For several years, Cope toured with Lise E. Mann as Duende! In 1992, they commissioned Seattle composer Karen P. Thomas to write “Moon Shadows.” For this performance, Pamela Caldemeyer replaced Mann, who died earlier this year. The composer of “Moon Shadows” shows an ability to mesh the instruments in an inviting and comfortable collaboration. Fast repetitive phrases on the flute and a flute glissando reflect similar gestures on the guitar. This piece was a high point of the concert, showing that contemporary serious music can use the classical guitar with great success.

Andrés Segovia arranged the Cantilena from Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 5 for soprano and guitar, and with his Brevard College faculty colleague Kathryn Gresham, Cope delivered that familiar haunting tune. There was an unfortunate false start to this piece, and hints of inadequate rehearsal leading to some disagreement between the musicians about rubatos.

A standard of the two-guitar repertoire is Joaquin Rodrigo’s three-movement Tonadilla, and Steven Walter joined Cope in a superb performance of this piece.

“Suite Miscellany,” by Roupen Shakarian, was a sophomoric disappointment. A tongue-in-cheek work written by a composer such as Erik Satie is simultaneously a parody and substantial music. For example, Serge Prokofiev’s Four Pieces for Piano, Op. 32, provides a modern take on the minuet, gavotte, and waltz, each movement amusing but highly inventive. By contrast, Shakarian gives the audience amusing movement titles (“Quaalude in E” and “First Tango in Lubbock” are examples) but gave flautist Judi Lampert and guitarist Cope very little meat to work on.

The final two works were contemporary pieces for guitar quartet. Cope, Walter, and James were joined by Mac Nelson, recently of Warren Wilson College and now at UNC Greensboro. These four guitarists from Western North Carolina and neighboring upstate South Carolina performed Darin Au’s “Chasing Dragons” and Mason Williams’ “Flamenco Lingo.” Williams, who was a writer for the Smothers Brothers television show, composed the popular 1960s piece “Classical Gas” for guitar and orchestra. For my taste, “Flamenco Lingo” is a far better piece of music, demonstrating a modern voice while acknowledging the past by using a highly attractive Latin rhythm very skillfully.

A very small audience – perhaps fifty – attended this concert. They were few, but they went away happy. In addition to some old favorites, notably the Joaquin Rodrigo, the afternoon had presented two memorable and less-known pieces from composers Karen P. Thomas and Mason Williams.

*Note: This review has been processed by our Executive Editor.