No classical musician has an “easy” career track these days, but classical guitarists face an unusual plight. On the one hand they are experts on an instrument that is almost universally beloved, yet on the other they are devotees of a sub-genre that many people, even some classical fans, barely know exists. So what are your three favorite works for classical guitar? My point exactly.
For this reason, Boston GuitarFest, founded seven years ago by the prominent guitarist and New England Conservatory faculty member Eliot Fisk, seems to always have been as much about building professional community as it was about entertaining audiences. There are seminars and master classes, an annual competition, a group visit to the MFA, and, almost incidentally, a series of concerts in which the public is invited to listen in.
This year for the first time GuitarFest includes a workshop for young guitarists as well as a collaboration with Stephen Drury’s nearby Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice, taking place at NEC. On Thursday afternoon at the Fenway Center, members of Drury’s ensemble Callithumpian Consort joined festival guitarists for a program called “Nach Bach,” playfully tracing Bach’s influence down to the present day.
As a point of departure, Bach’s final unfinished Contrapunctus from “The Art of Fugue” was offered in an arrangement for clarinet, guitar, vibraphone, and cello, a combination of instruments that gave this iconic score a sheen that was mellow, cool, and glistening. By contrast, Alvin Lucier’s “Canon” was a hypnotic study in granular slow motion change, as ensemble pitch migrates almost imperceptibly over the course of several minutes. In a similar spirit, variation in Glass’s “Music in Fifths” comes sparingly, and this score, dating from the composer’s more severe pre-Romantic stage, became on Thursday a study in endurance for all involved. That the performance, led by guitarist Maarten Stragier, was as tight and coherent as it was, given the sauna-like temperatures in the Fenway Center, was a testament to the unflappability of these musicians.
The program began with Jonathan Godfrey playing his own Sonatina for Guitar Solo, an often soft-spoken and invitingly poetic work written in 2010. GuitarFest continues with a “Back to Bach” concert tonight in Jordan Hall, featuring Fisk and the distinguished Italian guitarist Oscar Ghiglia.