Mature performances by undergraduate NZSM guitar students at St Andrew’s

St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts

Classical guitar students of the New Zealand School of Music
Dylan Solomon, Olivia Fetherston, Joel Baldwin, Rameka Tamaki, Amber Madriaga

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 28 September, 12:15 pm

This student recital was a showcase for an honours student (Solomon) set beside four first and second year students. The test for the audience might have been to have asked them to identify the levels of accomplishment of each, without knowing their place in the academic hierarchy. Without denigrating the splendid playing of Solomon, I was often surprised at both the skill and the interpretive insights displayed by the undergraduate students.

Because soprano saxophonist Kim Hunter had a conflicting engagement, Solomon substituted for the planned piece for saxophone and guitar by Giulianni, a solo guitar piece by James Mountain, Four Fountains, and the Gigue from Bach’s Lute Suite in C minor (BWV 997).

James Mountain is an Australian composer/guitarist, and this piece was inspired by Len Lye’s Four Fountains, a central installation at the Len Lye Centre in the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth.

He began with such unobtrusive hand movements at the top of the strings, that I thought he was perhaps tuning in an unusual way. But it soon became clear that we were in flight and the ethereal sounds seemed to confirm the sense of a Len Lye creation. I have not yet got to see the new Len Lye gallery so I’ll satisfy myself with an extract from the gallery’s website:

“The new Len Lye Centre opened in July 2015 with an audience favourite: the gentle swaying Fountain, a bundle of rotating stainless-steel rods that twist, flex and shimmer. Among the earliest of Lye’s ‘tangible motion sculptures’, Fountain became a work he returned to throughout the 1960s and 1970s with numerous variations in collections around the world.

“Performing alongside three earlier versions of Fountain, a new member of this family of works arrived in 2015 with the 8-metre tall version – Fountain IV – engineered by the Len Lye Foundation based on Lye’s detailed design drawings and notes.”

Having made this connection, I would rather like to hear the piece again. There were two parts: the first an ethereal, spectral melody in a gently swaying motion; the second, more corporeal, with faster, rolling chords, yet still enigmatic and hypnotic with an endlessly repeated note in the centre of the surrounding sounds.

Solomon’s second piece was the Gigue from Bach’s Lute Suite in C minor. The authenticity of the lute suites and other pieces for the lute is a subject that the layman might well avoid. At one end of the controversy is the lack of evidence that Bach wrote any suites specifically for the lute, and that the so-called lute suites (BWV 995 – 1000), are arrangements of music written for other instruments. The water is muddied by transcriptions of, for example, Bach’s solo violin sonatas and partitas being entitled (by Hopkinson Smith for example) as ‘lute sonatas and partitas’.

It was a rather moderato version of a gigue which is often presented as a quicker dance, but then all the dances that came to be employed by composers over the centuries were treated in individual ways, without the focus primarily on dancing. The way this went was very attractive.

A couple of weeks earlier I’d attended the concert in the Adam Concert Room at Victoria University where Marek Pasieczny himself played; here, first-year student Olivia Fetherston played his Little Sonata of 2011; she reported that it was based to some extent on pieces by Hindemith and Schubert, though I didn’t recognise anything very reminiscent of the styles of either composer. It’s a carefully written work which does not, as the name suggests, outlive the interest of its material; it called for the player to give much attention to dynamics, vibrato, subtle tempo changes, interesting sequences of chords that are always an engaging aspect of the instrument’s resources, and flashes of flamenco-like strumming in the last movement. All played with impressive accuracy and sensitivity.

Joel Baldwin played three of Lilburn’s Canzonas. Though I’ve heard them played on guitar before, I had not heard the one presented as No 1 which is based on Sings Harry; perhaps it’s a changed sequence adopted for the guitar arrangements. The usual No 1 is that composed as incidental music, as were two of the others, for Ngaio Marsh’s famous Shakespeare productions for the Canterbury University College Drama Society: this one for Hamlet, and Joel played that second. I didn’t catch the origin of the third one – either for Marsh’s Othello, or for Maria Dronke’s reading of Rilke’s famous The Lay of Love and Death of Cornet Rilke. They lie very well for the guitar, but are deceptively hard to capture, given Lilburnian elusiveness and reticence; and it’s no disgrace not to have mastered every subtlety. He followed with the Fugue from Bach’s solo violin sonata in G minor, BWV 1001, one of those transcribed via a lute arrangement. His playing was fluent and managed to find the outlines of the fugal workings clearly.

Rameka Tamaki played two contemporary pieces, the first by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer and the second by eminent French composer Roland Dyens. With Brouwer’s Danza del Altiplano Tamaki showed a surprisingly comfortable familiarity, as if he’d lived on the Altiplano (the high plateau straddling Bolivia, Peru and Chile) rather than Cuba. There was an instinctive feel for the rhythm and his fingering was agile; he seemed to rejoice in the nasal sound created by strumming close to the bridge.

Dyens’s famous Tango en Skaï, has cropped up in school of music recitals a few times over the years. For a young first year student, Rameka Tamaki exhibited an air of confidence and considerable virtuosity in the varied demands on each hand. Perhaps it’s a kind of send-up of the Argentinian tango and the playing commanded the complex rhythms and flourishes with seeming ease.

Finally Amber Madriaga. First she played the pair of minuets from Bach’s solo violin partita in E minor, BWV 1006, the first of which is a gentle piece, very exposed for a violinist though not that hard simply to play the notes and the same goes for the guitarist. The second minuet, a little more subdued in spirit, is usually played at the same tempo, but she emphasised its meditative character by slowing further; a satisfying performance.

I recalled Madriaga’s name from her participation in the university’s Young Musicians Programme in 2012 where she played the Tango en Skaï. Here she played, instead, Dyens’s Fuoco (from his Libra sonatina), a furiously virtuosic piece that was, perhaps, not technically perfect, but nevertheless exemplifying the admirable level of accomplishment that the school of music is achieving, specifically in guitar.




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