GUITAR x 2, pleasure squared

Weslea Sidon
Bar Harbor Times
August 14, 2003


BLUE HILL — GUITAR x 2, the duo Harris Becker and Pasquale Bianculli, brought the unique intimacy of classical guitars and lutes to the Liberty School in Blue Hill on Saturday, Aug. 9.

It was an evening of serious but buoyant music, encompassing the works of guitarist-composers from the 16th century to the present, and requiring a masterful array of virtuoso techniques from both players.

The classical guitar has a long, cyclical history of mad popularity and complete dismissal. The modern classical guitar era began when Andres Segovia synthesized a technique that was strong enough to fill a hall without amplification and precise enough for an emotionally charged performance. His success revitalized the existing guitar repertoire, and inspired new generations of guitarists and composers. The virtuoso classical guitar duo was also rediscovered, reenergized and put into performance.

Because the guitar is played right next to the heart, I love to think it is played by the heart itself, and I never hear good classical playing without feeling connected to our common humanity.

GUITAR x 2 has the skill sensitivity to give an audience that connection. The program was filled with composers who clearly knew the outer limits of the instrument and had no fear of going there. When great players compose for an instrument they love, and other great players take up the challenge, the audience gets to hear a sonic world that few of us could ever reach on our own.

GUITAR x 2 has beautiful balance of tone and timbre. Mr. Becker and Mr. Bianculli have played together for many years, and their communication is flawless. Duets are not just two easy parts put together to sound hard.  The opposite is often true. The first piece of the evening, Souvenir de Russie, Op. 63 by Fernando Sor (1778-1839), was probably written to be played with another master guitarist-composer of the era, Aguado. Sor — always referred to as the “Beethoven of the guitar,” composed complex works that demanded uncompromised technique.

The duo separated for two sets of solo lute. Mr. Bianculli played what he referred to as “folk lute,” a group of traditional tunes used for dancing and personal amusement  in the 1600s. These were a charming link to the rest of the program. The use of popular music then, as now, brought a sense of familiarity to new works written to be listened to.

Mr. Becker played works of the famous lutenist-composer, John Dowland (1563-1626). Dowland wrote songs, dances and “Fancies” excursions into a theme, a rhythm, a whatever, that kept going until there was nothing more to say.

Most of the works on this program were modern, and included “Prayer,” a beautiful meditation by Fred Hand, as well the stunning Long Island Suite Op. 101 composed for the duo by Carlo Domeniconi. Like much modern guitar music, this work calls on the guitar’s ability to be playful without sounding giddy, and philosophical without being stodgy.

The last works were by three modern Brazilian guitarist-composers. Although the composers, Sergio Assad (b. 1952), Celso Machado (b. 1953) and Paulo Bellinati (b. 1950) come from the same venerated traditions, the juxtaposition of these works perfectly demonstrated the infinity of sound within the guitar. The irrepressible Brazilians use all the percussive qualities of the guitar, and the effects were exhilarating. (A preconcert lecture by guitar maker Thomas Bazzolo touched on the sounds of the wood used for different parts of the guitar, so the percussive elements were even more vivid.) The night was hot and humid, too, and a dream of being carried to Brazil on wings of song seemed perfectly reasonable for that moment.

 The concert was produced by Guitar Intensives and Liberty School in Blue Hill, who are sponsoring a week of instruction in all guitar genres. The quality of the concert bodes well for Guitar Intensives, and we should be hearing more from them in the future. I hope to have the opportunity to hear GUITAR x 2 again — and again.