Honestly, I can't remember the last time I went to go see a concert featuring classical music, especially on my own accord. I don't think I've ever sought out a classical performance before, only ever going if I'd been invited by someone else. It's not that I never enjoyed seeing them. I have fond memories of past performances, watching people with immense skill doing something they are incredibly passionate about, and sharing that talent for an audience to appreciate. So a couple of days ago when I was looking for another concert to cover, I saw the Denver Classical Guitar Society was putting on a show and thought, "Why not?" Looking back, I'm very glad I did.
It was definitely a huge change of pace. I had expected the crowd to be mostly the silver haired variety, but that wasn't exactly the case. It was a small crowd, fewer than fifty people for sure, but it was pretty well mixed as far as age groups representation. I hadn't yet been to The Walnut Room before last night, but it was a comfortable area with many tables and bar stools positioned in front of the good sized stage. They had classical guitar music filling the room from the house speakers, and I sat quietly waiting for the first performance in a seat close to the stage.
There were some differences about this night I noticed right away. Every concert I've written about so far has had a much different atmosphere. Every crowd before was talkative and moving about, the house music more of a mask to drown out the sound of the crowd rather than something everyone would quietly listen to as they patiently waited for the first act. Everyone spoke in whispers and any movement anyone made was deliberately slow and careful as to not make any disturbing sounds. It was like there was an unspoken agreement everyone made that night to make the purest listening environment as possible.
As the first performer went on stage and immediately went into his set, I still hadn't yet unzipped my camera bag. As he started to play, I had to move slowly and carefully because it seemed like otherwise I would disrupt the clean quiet music and quiet atmosphere. I took far fewer photos and moved around much less than I usually do since each time I would hit the button on the camera to release the shutter, I felt like the entire room could hear each click echoing off the walls.
That wasn't a bad thing though, it gave me a chance to really concentrate on the music more, and the first set started out amazingly. Joel Smith started his set without introduction, using his first piece to perform that duty. Afterwards, in a soft a soft, kind southern accent, he explained the piece he played, "Songe Capricorne" by Roland Dyens, telling a little anecdote about the song. He proceeded to introduce each successive piece in that same likable manner. He played a diverse variety of pieces, many of them transcriptions and arrangements of songs not originally intended to be played on the classical guitar.
I am a big Chopin fan, and he played a piece originally written for the piano, a waltz, beautifully on the guitar. He then played a suite of songs that all had a relation to Bach in some fashion; either interpretations of Bach's music by other composers or transcriptions of Bach music that was written for other instruments. True to his reputation, he also included originally non-classical songs in his set but played them in breathtaking classical guitar style. He played an incredible arrangement of "Yesterday" by The Beatles and finished with a classical-music-meets-jazz arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight". He was very entertaining to watch and I loved the way he talked about each song, helping paint a vivid picture in the listener's mind.
Following Joel Smith was the highly acclaimed Colorado native guitarist Danny Masters. I was particularly interested in hearing him play because he's been a figure in Colorado classical guitar for over two decades. Danny Masters came onto stage and introduced himself and his beautiful custom made Brazilian rosewood guitar, Rosalinda, to the crowd. His guitar had been hand crafted by a member of the audience, who was hearing Masters perform with it for the first time. Danny Masters wasted little time and began to play with pieces he had recorded onto his album, Cancion.
Danny Masters took the audience on a classical guitar music journey around the world. He began in South America, playing music from Venezuelan composer Antonio Lauro. Of the five Lauro pieces he played, I really enjoyed the waltz "No. 4 Yacambu". Danny then played the La Catedral suite from Paraguayan composer Agustin Barrios. Both Joel Smith and Danny Masters played Lauro's "Allegro Solemne" from La Catedral, so it was interesting to see how two different performers interpreted the same piece. I'd say Smith's version was more solemn, while Masters' was more allegro (which means faster tempo, lively). From there, Danny Masters took the audience to Europe, playing Spanish composer Francisco Tárrega, some adapted Johann Sebastian Bach, and Italian composer Mauro Giuliani.
Danny Masters brought the audience back home - sort of. He played some original compositions so technically the music is from Colorado, but the music he wrote is from a work called Suite Africa. He played two of the pieces, "Under the Water" and "Zebra Chase", the latter being incredibly memorable for both its technicality and the way it the resulting music so perfectly fit its title. To keep with the jungle theme, Masters finished with "Étude No. 7" by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. I liked how his set flowed logically and by the end of it, I did feel as if I was musically well traveled.
Jeff Copeland came up on stage next, and having heard a couple of his live recordings, I knew I was in for a treat. Jeff Copeland is definitely an expert at what he does, and he has one of those personalities where what he excels at seems to come so easy to him, he may not realize he's explaining things too fast for the average audience. That's how I felt, he would explain his songs very quickly and extremely concise - not too technical, but faster than I could soak it up. Before I had the opportunity to process what was said, he was already well into that said piece. He may not be the best about talking about his music, but the way he plays it is an entirely different story.
He began with pieces by Máximo Diego Pujol a composer from Argentina. While I was still bedazzled by what I'd just heard, he'd quickly moved on to a piece by Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo, "Junto al Genera Life", a piece from the concerto inspired by the gardens of a Spanish resort, and by the sound of it, those were incredibly beautiful gardens. He played a trio of pieces by Roland Dyens, my favorite being "Tango en Skaï", a lighthearted take on the tango but still thrilling with its technicality - a joy to watch Copeland's fingers dance up and down the fret board. He played a couple pieces called "Snowflake" and "The Dance of Ghosts" but I did not catch the composer. He played an adaptation of Felix Mendelssohn's "Canzonetta" and he finished with a piece called "Dance" by a little known Spanish composer,
Agustín Castilla-Ávila. It is evident that Copeland lives and breathes playing the guitar, as the music flows from him so freely.
Finally, the youngest of all the performers took the stage, Michael Bevers. Bevers, still a junior at CU Boulder, is not yet old enough to legally hold a beer, but he holds a guitar with such confidence that it transcends his years. He didn't play as much variety as the other performers, but what he did play, he played extremely well, almost flawlessly. He started out with "Preludes Nos. 1-5" by Heitor Villa-Lobos, explaining concisely but eloquently what each one meant in between. He played a more contemporary piece by British composer Reginald Smith Brindle, a beautiful piece with a little more abstract segments in the composition, which Bevers explained was due to Brindle's tendency to play with tonal color. He finished with a technically difficult Johann Sebastian Bach piece originally written for the lute.
Michael Bevers was incredible to watch perform. He played with a high degree of passion - you could see it expressed in his face as he stretched for every note. I was incredibly impressed with him, and knowing that he is so young means he'll be a force to reckon with in the future. It also means that classical music is still alive and well with talented youth like him around. There are still those out there who play music strictly because it is their love and passion.
If you want to see true musicianship, go see a classical music performance. The people you'll see on stage slave away every day through practicing, studying theory, and learning about massive amounts of music history. They do so day in and day out without thinking about widespread recognition. They don't think about trying to get a record deal. They aren't thinking about radio play or making some sort of video that'll get played on MTV. They just continue to tirelessly hone their craft - to be the best they can be simply because they love what they do. They are always willing to share their gift with an audience, but those audiences seem to grow smaller by the day. People get caught up in a lot of other stuff out there and forget about these humble people with immense amount of skill. If you truly appreciate music, the next time you see a classical music concert, check it out. You don't have to go to every single one, and there is nothing wrong with frequenting shows of other types of music, but catching something like this every once in a while can be a true eye-opener. I know I'll jump at the next opportunity.