One world premiere of a major work with the Santa Barbara Symphony would normally cause a stir among classical music fans, but next week, when the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (LAGQ) comes back to Santa Barbara, we’ll have two. These four remarkable classical guitarists-John Dearman, Matt Greif, William Kanengiser, and Scott Tennant-are coming to town for the Second International Guitar Festival next week with a lot they intend to accomplish. They will play Interchange, a work especially commissioned for them by Sergio Assad, and The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote: Words and Music from the Time of Cervantes, a spoken-word and guitar piece by their own William Kanengiser, with John Cleese providing the narration.
According to LAGQ member John Dearman, “These works for guitar are a relatively new genre, but they’re tracking with a lot of different audiences, especially since they were written especially for us. Sergio Assad’s Interchange is actually about the play of personal relationships among the group’s members. Sergio has known us all a long time, and he worked something of the background of each member into each of the piece’s four movements. Scott’s background is in flamenco, so there’s something of that in his movement. Matt is also a jazz player, so the movement started out as a jazz ballad, then evolved into an almost minimalist kind of world music.”
The evolution of Don Quixote is even more complex, according to Dearman: “A while back, we did a recital for UCSB’s Arts & Lectures, and Celesta Billeci, the director, told us that John Cleese was in the audience. Of course, he’s my favorite member of Monty Python, and we were all dying to meet him. We ended up talking for a half hour after the concert, and later on, he had us all out for dinner. We kept on thinking we wanted to do something with him, although he claims to be tone deaf and can’t really read music. Finally, Bill came up the idea that he’s turned into his life’s work: a version of Cervantes’s Don Quixote using spoken-word narration and the music of Cervantes’s time-Golden Age vihuela music. The viheula is an ancestor of the guitar, and it’s just amazing that there are these wonderful pieces that appeared during the same period as the novel. Bill Kanengiser put it all together, and we made some informal recordings to send to John Cleese so he could learn the piece. He’s been working on the voices and the pacing, and he’s got it all just right.”
Cleese and the LAGQ undoubted have got it just right-be there.
The Santa Barbara Symphony presents the Second International Guitar Festival from March 21-29. Events include The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) on Wednesday, March 25, at 8 p.m.; and Return of the Guitars at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.) on Saturday, March 28, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, March 29, at 3 p.m. For more information, visit thesymphony.org or call 898-9626.