Running the NY Guitar Marathon, by William Kanengiser

Around 8 years ago, I was invited by David Spelman to be a part of an intriguing event:  A Guitar Marathon focusing on the music of Spain, curated by my dear friend and “guitar guru” Pepe Romero.  At first I wondered:  what on earth is a “guitar marathon”?  I had visions of guitarists chugging Gatorade, 30 consecutive relay-race performances of the Chaconne, oxygen masks for the faint of heart.  What it turned out to be (at the 92nd St. Y uptown) was a cavalcade of incredible players, presenting beautiful Spanish guitar music from the Renaissance to the present.  I’ll never forget the scene backstage:  hanging out with legends like Paul O’Dette, Eliot Fisk, Ana Vidovic, and of course, Pepe. And for the audience, the wide variety of styles and players made for a day of delicious guitar overdose, like watching three seasons of “Breaking Bad” in one go.

Fast forward to this summer.  David calls again, and he asks ME to help co-curate a new installment of the Guitar Marathon, this time at the venerable Merkin Concert Hall in the Kaufman Music Center. I tell him how honored I am that he asked me to help, and of course I would do it!  And I mention that the fact that it would be at Merkin gave it special meaning for me: It was in that very hall that I played my New York debut in 1988, after winning the Concert Artists Guild Competition.  And my group, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, played our first concert in New York there, part of the legendary D’Addario Guitar Series that ran there for years.

Adding to the mystique, David told me that the amazing Badi Assad, sister of my dear friends Sergio and Odair (The Assad Brothers Duo) would be my co-curator.  The theme this time: the Guitar in South and North America. What a wide-open, rich and potentially unfocused theme, one that literally could be “all over the map”.  But as David, Badi and I crafted our ideas about how to structure the event, it slowly took shape:  Two three-hour recitals, one in the afternoon, one in the evening, each featuring five sets by world-class performers.  Held on the Martin Luther King Holiday (Jan. 20) so that folks could easily attend without playing hookie.  A leisurely two-hour break for power bars and hydration.  And it would flow from North to South; the afternoon would focus on great guitar music from the US, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, and the evening would showcase the sultry melodies and infectious rhythms of Argentina, Venezuela, and of course, Brazil. And over the course of the day, the audience would sense how, despite a range of styles and performers as far-flung as a trip from Juneau to Tierra del Fuego, the guitar is a unifying force in the Americas.

The day’s trek begins in Mexico.  David Mozqueda, the astounding young virtuoso from Guadalajara, will play a Sonata by Mexico’s beloved Manuel Ponce, as well as fantastic arrangements of popular boleros. Moving to the US, the talented Colin Davin, who has made a name for himself of late in New York as a champion of new music, will highlight the music of Joan Tower. Along with flutist Daniel James, he’ll also play a fantastic work for guitar, flute and tape by Homer, Alaska’s own Conrad Winslow. The elegant performer Connie Sheu is coming from California to present beautiful works by female composers, including Canadian Dale Kavanaugh and Brazilian/New Yorker Clarice Assad (Badi’s niece, incidentally). Next, the phenomenal soloist Jorge Caballero will play some of the most important North American masterworks of the solo repertoire, including “Changes” by Eliott Carter and Leo Brouwer’s “Sonata #1”.  I’ll finish out the first leg of the marathon, bringing up the rear with a mix of Cuban, Mexican and American pieces inspired by folkloric and jazz elements. One very special aspect for me is that the first three performers are all former students of mine; I’m thrilled to invite them to participate, and I take great pride in their professional accomplishments and development. As a special treat, we’ll all send the audience off for a breather with a group sprint to the half-way marker.

After the break, the event really gets going with Badi’s half-marathon. She asked some of her good friends from South America to perform, and these happen to be some of the leading artists in South American guitar today.  The amazing Brasil Guitar Duo will play, among others, tangos by Piazzolla and Brazilian music by Villa-Lobos and Gismonti.  The brilliant Duo Siquera/Lima will make their NY debut, playing pieces from their native Uruguay and Brazil. Jorge Caballero will return for a second set, this time playing the monumental Ginastera Sonata and Paraguayan pieces by Barrios.  Samba groove-master Romero Lubambo will astound with his blazing virtuosity, and Badi will cross the finish line with her unique “one-woman band” blend of vocals, percussion and guitar wizardry.

And did I mention that it’s a FREE concert?  I certainly hope you can make time in your MLK Day to run the gamut of American guitar styles with us. This installment of the NY Guitar Marathon promises to be an unforgettable event!


William Kanengiser

Los Angeles, CA 

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