The Art of the Ensemble – Adelaide International Guitar Festival 2010

Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed Saturday 27th November 2010

Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: one performance only
Duration: 90mins (incl interval)
Festival Bookings: BASS 131 241 or

This concert was another double bill, with Guitarissimo presenting the first half and the Melbourne Guitar Quartet the second half. Guitarissimo is a collective title for concert series presented by guitar students at various stages of their studies at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, who use that title in performances that act as stepping stones to the working environment. This allows them to gain valuable experience and, no doubt, the opportunity to perform in this prestigious Festival would have been a great thrill for them.

Attending a live performance is an important occasion for music lovers as they not only get to hear the artists but also see them perform and admire the skills and technique of the musicians. It was extremely disappointing, therefore, to find that somebody had decided to cram in as many chairs as possible on the flat Space Theatre floor, and then only provide a very low stage for the performers. One would have hoped that they would have realised that a guitarist plays sitting down, resting the guitar on their thigh, and thus needs to be clearly seen from the knees upward. The stage really needed to be as high as that in the Festival Theatre. As a consequence, those of us sitting to the rear saw little or nothing of the performance and a lot of the rear of other people’s heads dodging to and fro, also trying to see.

With the cabaret style seating on the other nights that I saw concerts in that venue, a higher stage would still have been preferable, but at least the audience was not crammed in so tightly and people could move to get a better view. The need for a higher stage also applies during the Cabaret Festival, when performers are also sometimes seated.

Jody Fisher, an award winning Master’s student, opened the concert with two pieces; Federico Moreno-Torroba’s Madroños and then Serenata Española by Joaquin Malats. It was easy to hear why she has been winning awards, with a clarity of playing, a full tone and a clear understanding of the music in evidence.

Trio Sonoro consists of Jakob Brunnbauer, Benjamin Leahy and Saxon Wilson and their performance was works by two of their members. Leahy’s Sketches from the Outback was in three movements, Sunrise, Morning and Afternoon, and Brunnbauer contributed two pieces, Tectonic Tango and Slapdash Stampede. These senior students have a wealth of talent between them, both as musicians and composers.

The Elder Conservatorium Guitar Ensemble then turned to one of the great names in Argentinean music, Astor Piazzolla, for Zita, in an arrangement by Leonardo Bravo, and then closed with Grant Sheridan’s Earth Dance. There was great potential to be heard in this group and, obviously, the Elder Conservatorium guitar tuition is in good hands with Guitarissimo’s creator and director Oliver Fartach-Naini at the helm.

The Melbourne Guitar Quartet opened their part of the concert with one of the best known and most loved pieces in the Baroque repertoire, J. S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565. This organ masterpiece has been orchestrated and adapted many times for numerous other combinations of instruments. On this occasion the adaptation is by Quartet member, Peter Carutz. Staying in the Baroque era, another of the great works, Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto No. 8 in A minor for two violins, in an arrangement by another of the Quartet, Benjamin Dix, made an interesting contrast to the first work.

The quartet uses an acoustic bass guitar, a standard guitar and two tenor guitars for a lot of their work, giving a similar range of possibilities to that of a string quartet, and that was the line-up for these numbers. This wide pitch range is, of course, essential for an arrangement of organ or orchestral works and the quartet were thus able to deliver exciting and dynamic interpretations that drew huge applause.

A complete change of era brought us to William Walton’s Five Bagatelles, originally for solo guitar but this time arranged for quartet by Jeremy Tottenham, another Quartet member. Not to be left out, the fourth member of the quartet, Anthony Field, arranged Nigel Westlake’s Omphalo Centric Lecture for the group. Westlake was inspired by a Paul Klees painting of that name, the second work in this Festival to have been created by a composer through their exposure to this artist. This work has undergone a couple of rearrangements by Westlake, both centring on percussion, and some was included in this performance.

These works were both even more challenging that the first two but, with musicians of this standard, they were made to sound easy. The fluidity of playing and technical excellence made this a standout performance.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

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