Bolshoy deemed "brightest and best" in classical guitar

review by Bob Park

The solo guitar performance by Daniel Bolshoy was billed by South Okanagan Concert Society’s executive as an event “not to be missed.” And were they ever right about that! It had been 25 years since the concert society last had a classical guitarist on stage. Last Friday night they made up for that “oversight” by bringing us the brightest and best.  

There are always potential challenges inherent in planning any concert. For this one, consider this: 200 people in a “substitute concert hall”, a whole program of music by composers that 99 percent of the audience had never heard of, and a single, quiet, unamplified, acoustic guitar.  How would it go over? The short answer: extremely well!

Daniel Bolshoy had us spell-bound throughout the evening. He worked magic on his newly acquired high-tech German-made guitar, of which even the slightest whisper of a strum could be heard at the back of the hall. The audience listened, as with bated breath, not wanting to miss a single phrase, a single note. Rare are performers who perfect the vibrato, slides and changes of tone on the guitar so as to create and maintain a singing quality. Daniel Bolshoy is such a performer.

He drew us into to the lyrical world of Sainz de la Maza, Karmon, and Barrios and, after two hours of pure delight, left us on our feet, asking for more.  Daniel’s program began with a musical tribute by the composer, Eduardo Sainz de la Maza, to a series of poems by the Spanish poet Juan Ramon Jimenez, “Platero y Yo”. A man and his donkey: the simple joys of life and memories. Daniel’s gift to us, we were soon to discover, was not just his beautiful playing. He also has the ability to set us up for the music by telling us lively little stories about the composers at the time that  each piece came into being.  We were fascinated. And we listened. The first half continued with five more compositions by Sainz de la Maza, including a  variety of evocative titles.  When Daniel introduced “Homage to Toulouse-Lautrec” by referencing the recent hit movie, “Midnight in Paris,” the audience nodded and smiled. The first half concluded  with Sainz de la Maza’s best known piece: Campanas del Alba, “Bells at Dawn”.  The rapid fire guitar-playing technique called “tremolo”, which allows a guitarist to imitate a singing vocal line, came off  so smoothly that the audience sat hushed for a moment, not wanting to break the lyrical spell.

The second half of the program began with “Next Year”, a series of 5 short pieces written for Daniel by the American composer Michael Karmon.  Each depicts a different aspect of life in Jerusalem, combining a sense of history, awe and modern realities of the 3,000 year-old city. Unusual, fascinating music, creating a taste for more. The program concluded with works by arguably the greatest guitarist of the 20th century, the Paraguayan-Guarani Indian composer Augustin Barrios Mangore.  Daniel explained how this composer’s music, so popular among guitarists today, languished in obscurity due to the overarching influence of Andres Segovia—the dominant classical guitar recitalist of the time. Out of jealousy, Segovia bad-mouthed Barrios at every opportunity. Barrios, a poverty-stricken, homeless, musical genius spent a life-time travelling all over Latin America, giving concerts and composing, but never getting the financial backing or promotional support he needed to achieve the success he was due.  A full, but in many ways also a tragic, life. Now, just as every pianist knows and admires Chopin, so does every guitarist know and admire Barrios.  It feels like a vindication when someone like Daniel shares the music by this genius with audiences far and wide.

The last piece in the program, “La Catedral”, presents enormous challenges to any performer. Daniel, with the exceptional powers of concentration and outstanding technical skills needed for the long and difficult stretches in the piece, did full justice to Barrios. A triumphant end to the program. We were treated to two encores, before the enthusiastic audience finally let Daniel leave the stage.  Barrios’ last composition, “An Alm for the Love of God”, was followed by Sainz de la Maza’s arrangement of Steven Foster’s well-known “Swanee River”, which combined shades of Ravel, Django Reinhardt, and Debussy. For me, it was a perfect ending to a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Judging by the strength of the standing ovation and by the record-setting CD sales in the foyer, Oliver concert-goers agreed!

The South Okanagan Concert Society has one more concert lined up for this season.  Music lovers, mark your calendars! The Penderecki String Quartet will be playing on Friday, Feb.24th at 7:30 at Oliver Alliance Church, whose support to the temporarily “homeless” SOCS has been tremendous, and is much appreciated by one and all. Early Bird ticket sales for next year will again be available.

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