Jason Vieaux (USA), guitar, and Julien Labro, bandoneon - Friday, June 8 at 7:30 p.m.

JULIEN LABRO (France), bandoneon
Cleveland Institute of Music, Mixon Hall
Friday, June 8, 2018, at 7:30 p.m.


Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)

Fratres * 

Radamés Gnattali (1906-1988)

Suite Retratos *
    Pixinguinha (Choro)
    Ernesto Nazareth (Valse)

Pat Metheny (b. 1954)

Antonia **

Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)

Escualo (arrangement Labro/Vieaux)  


Rossen Balanski (b. 1968)

Prelude and Scherzo

Radamés Gnattali (1806-1988)

Suite Retratos * 
    Anacleto de Madeiros (Schottisch)
    Chiquinha Gonzaga (Corta Jaca)

* Arrangement made by Julien Labro
** Arrangement made by Jason Vieaux

Jason Vieaux performs on a double top guitar by Gernot Wagner (Germany) strung with Augustine strings.

Please silence all electronic devices, including cellular phones, watches, and pagers. Photography, video or audio recording are not permitted during this concert.


It’s no secret that the twentieth century was a time of geopolitical turmoil—two world wars alone cement its harsh reputation. Artistically, it was also tumultuous. Consider how it differed from previous musical eras. For example, composers born in the eighteenth century had a straightforward path. They began with the music forged by the best of their predecessors, and this music had clear rules understood by everyone. So even composers as diverse and innovative as Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven toed the same starting line. To those not intimately familiar with the stylistic DNA of each, the early works of one composer can easily be mistaken for another. In contrast, by the time the twentieth century was well under way, the clear path of yesteryear had burst into a tangle of alternate paths. Young composers had to choose from a bewildering array of options. Aided by advances in mass communication, each path had its vocal and persuasive advocates. Too often artistic dialogue devolved into competing camps, each hunkered into its own foxhole and regarding all around them with suspicion.

It was not a time for the timid. In his 1875 poem Invictus, William Ernest Henley perhaps foresaw what lay ahead when he wrote, “In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance my head is bloody, but unbowed.” More than any previous time, twentieth century composers had to be masters of their own fate, and captains of their own souls.

For some composers, moving forward meant looking back. Estonian Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) at first dutifully wrote in the astringent atonal style that held sway in the early 1960s. But he soon recoiled, and composed nothing for eight years while immersing himself in ancient music. Pärt found inspiration in 12th century Notre Dame polyphony. One of the first results of this new direction was his 1977 Fratres, premiered by Gidon and Elena Kremer. Pärt gives no specific instrumentation, and since its inception this work has been performed in many arrangements. Writing for its 1995 Telarc recording, P
ärt said:“In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises—and everything that is
unimportant falls away.”

Brazilian Radamés Gnattali (1906-1988) slid easily between popular and classical music. Born to musical parents who named three of their children after characters from Verdi operas, Radamés learned piano, violin, guitar, and cavaquinho (a sort of Brazilian ukulele). What he really wanted was to become a concert pianist. But poverty forced him to seize whatever musical opportunities came his way. He played piano in silent movie houses, and gradually drifted into radio as a successful studio musician—after quitting one radio job for a better paying position, the beleaguered radio company begged him to return after realizing they’d need to hire four pianists to do what Gnattali had done alone. Retratos is a tribute to four pioneers of the Brazilian choro. Gnattali began it in 1956, and he conducted its 1964 premiere recording in an arrangement for bandolin player Jacob Pick Bittencourt and orchestra.

Guitarist Pat Metheny (b. 1954) never sought to be a classical composer. Instead, he became a jazz innovator, winning twenty Grammys over a performing career of almost fifty years. The National Endowment for the Arts named him one of its 2018 Jazz Masters. (Commented Metheny: “I was on tour and got word that there was something urgent I needed to hear about—I was afraid someone had died.”) But Metheny resists labeling himself. “I’m not a huge fan of the whole idea of genre or styles of music. To me, music is one big universal thing.” So it’s not surprising that other musicians, regardless of genre, gravitated to him. He’s collaborated with artists as diverse as rock star David Bowie and minimalist composer Steve Reich. Indeed, Metheny’s attitude toward composing sounds almost classical in its long view: “For every ten things I write, I usually wind up not using eight of them. It takes a long time to get to something I’ll really love playing night after night.” Tantalizingly, Metheny has received commission offers from classical orchestras, offers he’s reluctant to take up—just yet. “The issue for me is time. To write something at the level I would hope to get to would take a year or more, and honestly at this stage I couldn’t set everything aside and do nothing but write and still keep the kids fed. But it is one of my dreams to do at some point. I even have a pretty complete sketch of what it might be.”

Unlike Metheny, Argentinian Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) desperately wanted to be a classical composer. At age twenty-eight he turned away from popular music—of which he was already a master—and devoted himself solely to classical composing. In 1953 his Sinfonía Buenos Aires won a competition organized by conductor Fabien Sevitzky (who, by the way, was the nephew of Serge Koussevitzky). Its premiere raised a furor—by some accounts, fisticuffs broke out in the audience over the use of pop instruments in an orchestral setting. Ironically, winning this composition prize prompted Piazzolla’s return to popular music. Part of his prize was the opportunity to study with the famed music teacher Nadia Boulanger, who convinced him that tango was his true calling. Pouring his classical training into the tango, Piazzolla revitalized a popular form that had slipped into ritualized ossification. Squaring the unlikely circle, it was as a tango composer that Piazzolla finally gained recognition as a classical icon.

One legacy of the twentieth century is the musical recognition of countries hitherto ignored, a happy legacy that continues today. Bulgaria is a black box in music circles—what happens in Bulgaria stays in Bulgaria. But the name of Rossen Balkanski (b. 1968) is beginning to attract notice. Balkanski began his musical life in the Sofia Boys Choir. “Our conductor Lily Todorova had high demands on us,” he fondly recalls. He began guitar studies at age eleven and graduated in 1987 from the Lubomir Pipcov Conservatory of Sofia. Today he teaches guitar at the Academy of Music in Sofia. His musical activities are varied. He does arrangements of classical works for the guitar orchestra Orpheus, performs with the “FaRo Duo” for guitar and piano, and composes for theater and film. (One of his theater pieces is whimsically entitled Solfeggio for Dogs.) As his recognition grows, he’s found himself approached by other musicians. “It’s so exciting to write music for high class performers!” The vigorous writing of Prelude and Scherzo suggests there’s more to come.

Tom Poore