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Paul Galbraith and His Unique Eight-String Guitar

Classical Virtuoso Galbraith to Play Lobero on Tuesday, March 29


GUITAR-CULTURE HIGH: Experiencing music in the forum of live, real-time real space is the real deal. It was always thus, of course, and is perhaps even more so in today’s all-too virtual world, where a more grounded sense of actuality may save our lives and sanity. Some music is better served by the reality factor than others, of course. Seeing, hearing—and feeling—is believing, for instance, when it comes to the great classical guitarist Paul Galbraith, whose late-notice booking at the Lobero Theatre on Tuesday is unquestionably one of the highlights of our current classical season.

Paul Galbraith
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Courtesy Photo

Paul Galbraith

Scottish-born and for many years based in Brazil—a classical guitar-centric zone, for sure—the eight-string guitar virtuoso Galbraith is something extra-special in the guitar world, as heard on his remarkable recordings, but particularly in recital mode. We’ve had the ample pleasure of hearing Galbraith live in Santa Barbara before, in the intimate quarters of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s wondrous chamber music series in its compact theater. The opportunity to hear him in the Lobero, in a show timed with the release of a new DVD, is appealing on many levels: Beyond the venue’s famed acoustics and historical resonance, this is also the house that has hosted the celebrated Romero family of classical guitarists going back 50 years.

Some classical guitar purists might stress the point that Galbraith veers to the left of the “genuine” classical guitar tradition, in that he has long played his custom-made eight-string guitar, which he holds upright, cello-like, and with a pin set on a resonating wooden box. But this specialized instrument is anything but a gimmick, rather expanding the range of the guitar (with one lower and one higher string) and the resonating box giving the conventional guitar’s notoriously soft dynamics a boost in volume and tonal depth.

Then again, conventionality is a slippery matter in the still-young world of classical guitar, which has only really been taken seriously in “serious music” circles for roughly a century (thank you, Andrés Segovia). Much of the tradition is still being made up, or “being written” as it goes, as newly written guitar music is gradually growing the repertoire and music from elsewhere is being adapted for the guitar’s particular demands. One of Galbraith’s great gifts to guitar music is his work as an arranger, which is partly by necessity, as he performs on a unique instrument. His Lobero recital, for instance, is comprised entirely of Galbraith arrangements of music by Haydn, Schumann, Hindemith, and his own reworking of a pillar of the guitar repertoire, Bach’s Cello Suites, this time out, the challenging Suite No. 6.

Galbraith’s albums—especially his Bach albums and arrangements of Haydn, Debussy, and Ravel—are stunning, as is his most recent album, Mozart, Bach & Britten (actually recorded down the 101, at Capitol Records Studio A). But get thee to a live Galbraith encounter, especially in an accommodating space like the Lobero, and you’ll get the purest and realest musical high. The truism continues. Be there.

RECITAL NEWS, PART TWO: Speaking of recitals worth taking note of, and music-friendly rooms, the inspired and still new-ish Song Tree classical recital series continues this Sunday, at the Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Goleta, with Lithuanian-born and Santa Barbara-based pianist Egle Januleviciute. Last November, one of the earliest close encounters with a piano recital here was given by another Santa Barbaran from afar, the Turkish émigré Zeynep Ucbasaran, who beautifully demonstrated the suitability of this venue for classical music of the intimate type. Januleviciute, who studied in Vilnius, Lithuania, and at UCSB, and has toured the world, now teaches at Westmont College, and her Sunday program includes Ravel, Beethoven, Chopin, Bach, and Liszt.

SPRING SPRINGING: Spring brings “Primavera” to mind and ear in Santa Barbara, and UCSB’s annual Primavera Festival officially kicks off on March 31, and runs through April 13. Accenting campus-based artists and contemporary music, this year’s festival also boasts a return visit from noted British computer music artist Kaffe Matthews (April 7).

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