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The Guitar Down Under

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, March 7, 2017
The Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, organized a three-day conference, December 9–11, 2016, under the title “Instrument of Change: The International Rise of the Guitar (c.1870–1945).” With speakers and attendants from all over the world, this was a magnificent get-together for sharing guitar research results. The event was organized by Michael Christoforidis and Liz Kertesz. Michael opened the sessions with his “Estudiantinas and the Plucked String Explosion in the 1870s” about groups of serenading musicians around a core of plucked instruments who traveled Spain and the world. There were two gender related presentations, one by Hannah Lindmaier from Vienna: “‘Female’ or ‘Male’?—Guitar and Gender at the Turn of the 20th Century”; the other by Kate Lewis from Guildford, United Kingdom: “She Made That Guitar Talk: Pioneering Female Lead Guitar Players and Their Influence on the Development of American Popular Music,” which gave historic details with pictures, sound, and scores from guitar heroines Maybelle Carter, Memphis Minnie, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Ken Murray from the University of Melbourne gave a fine presentation on “Percy Grainger: The Accidental Guitarist,” the Australian composer who had highly original ideas about the guitar and its tunings. The building next door housed an exposition of instruments and other paraphernalia from Grainger’s life and work. Photo caption: Gibson harp guitar at the Grainger exposition. After a most interesting “Segovia and the Russians” by Matanya Ophee, there followed two presentations titled “The changing Zeitgeist in Classical Guitar Repertoire: Andrés Segovia’s Reception in New York, 1928–1940” and “Andrés Segovia and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: 1939.” Unfortunately, neither of these latter two lectures presented anything we did not already know. Roxy DePue (University of California, Riverside) lectured on the challenges that freelance guitarists encountered in Hollywood, and John Whiteoak from Melbourne’s Monash University surveyed how the guitar was introduced to Australia. There were three lectures under the heading “The Classical Guitar in the English-Speaking World.” Brazilian guitarist-composer Diogo Carvalho summarized how and why the banjo and mandolin jeopardized the future of the guitar. Jonathan Paget lectured on Ernest Shand, who spent more than half a year in Australia, where he both acted and performed on the guitar. Jan de Kloe finished this chapter with the life and works of Boris Perott, the first teacher of Julian Bream. Under the rubric “New Repertories” we heard Ari van Vliet of the Netherlands speak on the “Shifting Style from Romanticism through Nationalism towards Expressionism.” Then Maurice Carrasco (University of Melbourne) gave many examples from Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Platero y yo that are unplayable as published and suggested performance solutions. Leilani Dade from the University of California Riverside expounded on Spanish nationalism in the works of Joaquín Turina, who was urged by Albéniz to pursue this element in his music, the latter feeling that Turina was too much under the influence of French big-name composers. The next chapter, chaired by Melanie Plesch, contained two lectures on Argentine visions of the guitar. The first discussed Atahualpa Yupanqui, accompanied with very nice music examples supported by good photographs. This was presented by Julius Carlson of Mount St. Mary’s University at Los Angeles. It was followed by “The Fall of the Tango Guitar and the Rise of the Middle-Class Tangueros,” given by Eric Johns (University of California Riverside). By analyzing the visual and audible representation of the tango in 1930s Argentine movies, Johns demonstrated that the guitar had become a signifier of lower-class society. Two important keynote addresses were then presented by major speakers in our field. Melanie Plesch (Melbourne University) offered “Nationalism, Internationalism and Other Dichotomies in the History of the Guitar in Argentina” while Walter Aaron Clark (University of California Riverside) gave us “Going Cucú for Aranjuez: Sources of Musical Inspiration and Influence in Joaquín Rodrigo’s Most Famous Work.” The cuckoo here refers to the sound Rodrigo imitated of the bird he so often heard when walking through the forests near Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, where he spent quite some time during the Spanish Civil War. Three presentations constituted the chapter “The Guitar in Interwar Spanish Nationalism.” The title of the first presentation was intriguing: “Domenico Scarlatti and the Spanish guitar, c.1920–40.” Luisa Morales (University of Melbourne) showed the impact of the Scarlatti sonatas and neo-Scarlatti compositions on the generation of Spanish guitarists such as Ángel Barrios. From the same university was Alexandra Velasco-Svoboda with “The Influence of Neoclassicism in Selected Guitar Works by Joaquín Rodrigo,” where she showed how a generation of composers was inspired to use the guitar in their neoclassical compositions removed of Andalusian cliché. In “Historical Performance Practice of Spanish Modernism: An Approach to the Performer Regino Sáinz de la Maza,” Yiannis Efstatopoulos from the Vrije Universiteit, Brussels, focused on the difference in playing technique between gut and silk-coated bass strings as compared to the strings we use today, but went beyond that as he analyzed the response and artistic insights of performing on original guitars by Santos Hernández, the approach to Tárrega’s technique, and sources addressing Regino as a performer. Sunday rounded off the conference with three lectures hard to categorize under one heading. Erie Setiawan from Yogyakarta, Indonesia, showed that the instrumentation in the kroncong ensembles is derived from 16th-century Portuguese plucked instruments. Gerard Mapstone and Stathis Gauntlett, both from the University of Melbourne, focused on flamenco and the rebetiki kithara. Because there was no audio example, I did not have the faintest what the latter was about. Arriving home, I went on YouTube for an example, and I suggest interested readers do the same. In addition to the “Instrument of Change” lectures, Friday and Saturday evenings featured live classical and popular Brazilian music by Doug de Vries, Adam May, Ken Murray, Alexandra Velasco-Svoboda, Matthew Hood, and Jimmy O’Hare. –Jan de Kloe

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