Who would have thought that the Rhode Island School of Design’s entrance exam would inspire a guitar recording? Briefly: one of the many pieces the art student is asked to submit is a drawing of a bicycle, anything that involved a bicycle, on a specific type of paper and with a specific type of pencil. My son, John, went to RISD. When my wife and I dropped him off for his first semester, we saw all of these drawings in a show. The variety of drawings—ranging from the conceptual to the extraordinarily detailed—both moved and stunned me.
It led to the idea of instituting a Yale School of Music Guitar Audition piece. That year I asked Jack Vees to write the first one. I asked him to compose a short piece (2-5 minutes) that would have no tempo markings, no dynamics and no articulation indications. It would contain just the notes and the rhythms. These audition pieces, written by my colleagues at Yale, were the genesis of this recording. Of course, not all of the works on this album were audition pieces, but movements from some of them definitely were. For example, I remember saying to Ezra Laderman, “You wrote such a knock out piece you simply have to write more!” He replied: “OK, but only of you play it all the time and everywhere!” Which, by the way, I have!
Clearly this recording would not exist were it not for the composers who so graciously and generously provided the music. One of the many joys of this project was working individually with each of these extraordinary artists. As time went on, their pieces and they themselves became my teachers. For this I am eternally grateful.
This is my third recording of a collection of works by American composers. By now, the distinctiveness of their compositional voices should come as no surprise—and yet, it continues to surprise (or startle or stun? Pick one or substitute another word). It begs the question: what is “American music”? What makes this recording particularly “American”? Does it even matter? I’m not sure it does, but I find it interesting nonetheless that many of these composers live in the same town and have all taught at the Yale School of Music. The world has become smaller in recent years. The musical influences heard on this recording span the globe.
Having said that, the guitar is by nature a universal instrument. Every country has a guitar-like instrument in its heritage. In the last few decades, composers all over the word have been writing excellent guitar music. Make no mistake: this is the golden age of guitar music, including classical, steel string and electric. Along with the music, the younger players and luthiers have never been so accomplished.
The guitar, classical or electric, is a musical chameleon of sorts. That is one of the characteristics that continually draws me to it. Its dynamic range is notoriously small… or is it? Throughout this recording the composers have allowed me to demonstrate the instrument’s exceptionally diverse color palette, its various articulations, its ability to sing, its intimacy, and its dynamic range.
As time passed, the making of this CD began to take on the feeling of something grander than my previous recordings—hence the title, Ben Verdery’s Guitar Project: On Vineyard Sound. Pieces were recorded at various times and places. I played a variety of guitars, from classical to electric. I was especially excited when Aaron and Ingram decided to write flute and guitar duets, which I recorded with my wife, flutist Rie Schmidt.
From the first note to the final, it was an utter joy interpreting and recording the music of these world-renowned composers. I hope you, the listener, will experience a similar joy in hearing this collection of new guitar music.
Special Thanks to:
Robert Blocker and The Yale School of Music for their generous support of this recording, Jim D’Addario, Jack Vees, Rie Schmidt, Elizabeth Brown, Libby Van Cleve, Bryce Dessner and the National, Solomon Silber, Simon Powis, Don Verdery, Laurelle Favreau, Mitsuko Verdery, John Verdery.
The Ben Verdery Guitar Project: On Vineyard Sound Track List:
1. Joaquin Is Dreaming: Joaquin Imagines A Part Of His History (Martin Bresnick)
2. Joaquin Is Dreaming: Joaquin Foresees A Future (Martin Bresnick)
3. Joaquin Is Dreaming: Joaquin Is Sleeping, Joaquin is Dreaming (Martin Bresnick)
4. On Vineyard Sound: With Rhythmic Drive and Compulsion (Ezra Laderman)
5. On Vineyard Sound: Andantino (Ezra Laderman)
6. On Vineyard Sound: Brusque, Strident (Ezra Laderman)
7. On Vineyard Sound: With Rhythmic Drive and Propulsion – Coda (Ezra Laderman)
8. Lullaby (Aaron Jay Kernis) *
9. For Ben: Movement Number One (Hannah Lash)
10. For Ben: Play These Notes (Hannah Lash)
11. For Ben: This Dances Slowly (Hannah Lash)
12. January Echoes (Christopher Theofanidis)
13. The Mentioning Of Love (Ingram Marshall) *
14. En Ti Los Ríos Cantan (Ben Verdery)
15. little eye (David Lang) **
16. National Anthem (Jack Vees)
* with flutist Rie Schmidt
** with Jack Vees on pedal steel guitar
Ben Verdery, Jack Vees, Greg Diacosta, Adam Abeshouse, Elizabeth Brown, Eugene Kimbal
Recorded and engineered by Adam Abeshouse: 1, 2, 3
Recorded in Sprague Hall, Yale School of Music, engineered and mastered by Eugene Kimbal: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13
Recorded and Mixed by Jack Vees at CSMT, Yale School of Music: 16
Recorded and mixed at Fire House 12 Studios by Greg Diacosta: 9, 10, 11, 14, 15
Final Mastering: Fire House 12 Studios by Greg Diacosta,
The Guitars Played:
Greg Smallman 1995: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Garrett Lee, 2013: 8, 12, 13, 14, 16
Otto Vowinkel 2013 Baritone Classical Guitar: 15
Gibson, 1956 Super 400: 9, 11
Collings 290DC Electric: 10
Jeff Traugott, –R.001-181.080: 16
1974 Stratocaster: 16
1963 Gibson Firebird: 16
Veillette Baritone 12 string: 16
Harmony H1 Lap Steel: 16
Emmons Pedal Steel Guitar: 15
Strings: D’Addario.& Company, Inc.
The classical guitar world remains vibrant today, with never a shortage of innovative repertoire, enthusiastic practitioners, concerts, and festivals. Ben Verdery’s works synthesize the diverse strands of this vibrant musical network. A musician and a teacher, Ben’s artistic collaborations stretch across genres and musical idioms. (Recently, for example, he collaborated with a hip-hop artist and a beatboxer.) On this album, The Ben Verdery Guitar Project: On Vineyard Sound, Ben performs on a variety of guitars, ranging from Fender Stratocaster and steel string to baritone and classical. He is constantly expanding his repertoire with commissions, transcriptions, and original compositions. With his innovative creative spirit, Ben has engendered a richer sense of community at the Yale School of Music. His guitar students regularly perform chamber music with other musicians. In addition, Ben organizes a regular guitar festival that brings together a variety of musicians, cultures, and perspectives.
Recently, Ben decided to invite his composer colleagues from the Yale School of Music to write audition pieces with relatively few interpretative indications. Each prospective student must learn one of these unfamiliar compositions, which are designed to challenge and engage the musical imagination. This project has brought together the Yale compositional community in producing a new body of guitar music. Indeed, many of the pieces on this album started out as such audition pieces. Taken as a whole, album reflects the extraordinary depth of musical talent in the community of composers at Yale.
Martin Bresnick’s Joaquin is Dreaming was inspired by the birth of his grandchild, Joaquin Bresnick-Arias. Bresnick, who is usually acclaimed for his compositional rigor, here produces a particularly gentle and poetic piece. He writes of Joaquin, “His wonderfully complex human inheritance (American, Ecuadorean, Jewish, Catholic, Russian, German, Spanish, native South American and more) inspired me to reflect in a musical way on this joyful new person and his intricate place in a brave new world.”
The first movement of Ezra Laderman’s On Vineyard Sound began as an audition piece, but even in its nascent form, it garnered great attention and praise from guitarists. Laderman remarks, “Its four movements reflect on some of the characteristics that make the guitar so unique. Each movement stays within a specific sound world, with the last section being an extension of the first movement. As with so many of my works, the opening phrase of each movement becomes the foundation for all that will follow. It lays out a sequence of notes that will be explored, transformed, and illuminated.”
Aaron Kernis’ Lullaby was originally written for solo piano but eventually reworked into a duet for flute and guitar. In this flowing composition, the duet partners must play as one expressive body, negotiating moments of rubato in tandem.
Hannah Lash’s For Ben also enjoyed a radical transformation from audition piece to concert work. Originally, she wrote a wildly difficult and austere melody for classical guitar. Afterwards, Ben suggested playing it on electric guitar, making use of distortion and other timbral effects intrinsic to the instrument. The result is the second movement, “Play These Notes.” Lash later added the first and third movements, performed here on a classic 1956 Gibson Super 400 jazz guitar.
January Echoes, by Christopher Theofanidis, was adapted from his 1997 solo viola work Flow, my tears (the title a homage to John Dowland), which was dedicated to his teacher, the late Jacob Druckman. Theofanidis worked closely with Ben to restructure the piece and adapt it into this wistful and lyrical miniature.
Ingram Marshall’s The Mentioning of Love refers both to the love he felt for his late teacher, K.R.T. Wasitodipura (affectionately known as Pak Tjokro), and the love between Ben Verdery and Rie Schmidt, partners in music as in life. Marshall writes, “I decided to compose the piece as an homage to Pak Tjokro. Thus there are melodic quotes from his composition and scales close to the modes of the Indonesian gamelan orchestras. At the outset, the flute and guitar seem to be playing together, sharing the same scalar material, but there are clashes and disconnects, despite commonalities of pitch and durational patterns. Towards the middle of the piece, however, they settle down and cooperate more; there are even some playful moments. But the tenor of the piece is mostly reflective and meditational.”
Verdery’s En Ti Los Rios Cantan (“In You the Rivers Sing”) takes its inspiration from a sensual poem by Pablo Neruda. Indeed, the mellifluousness of Neruda’s voice generates much of the melodic and rhythmic content of this piece. Ben worked with Jack Vees at Yale’s Center for Studies in Music Technology to process Neruda’s voice for this composition. The following is the English translation of the pre-recorded text:
Ah tu voz mysteriosa: Ah your mysterious voice
Crepuscolo cayendo en tus ojos, muñeca: Twilight falling in your eyes, toy doll
En ti los rios cantan: In you the rivers sing
David Lang’s little eye, originally written for “cello and four non-percussionists” was adapted for guitar, pedal steel, and brake drum by Verdery and Jack Vees. The guitar plays the part originally written for the cello. Lang enthusiastically approved when Ben suggested adding Segovia-esque colors, glissandi, and harmonics. The composer writes, “Small children get bored easily when traveling long distances by car. One way to distract them is to play the game I spy with my little eye, in which you look out the window and describe something you have noticed. In my experience this does work, not in a very subdued way—it is not the most exciting way to pass the time. Eventually, however, time does pass.”
When Ben commissioned Jack Vees to write a new piece, Jack first asked Ben what album was currently inspiring him. Ben named “High Violet” by The National. Vees then processed the album by playing it into a piano with the resonance pedal down, a technique he has employed in past works, producing a warm acoustic sound. The album’s structure, then, is closely allied to that of the solo piece. The entire album is reduced to just ten minutes, but many of The National’s distinctive qualities remain, including snatches of lead singer Matt Berninger’s haunting voice. Quotations from guitarist Bryce Dessner also intermingle with the solo melodies.
On the whole, The Ben Verdery Guitar Project: On Vineyard Sound has a striking trajectory. The first compositions begin in the homeworld of classical guitar repertory, but subsequent incursions of flute and electric guitar broaden the album’s sphere of influence. Later pieces offer cross-cultural references and electronic elements, all with an ethos of sensuality and darkness, and the album closes in a redemptive and optimistic mood. With its range of emotions, instruments, and compositional influences, this album furthers Ben Verdery’s unwavering commitment to pushing the artistic and musical envelope.
Benjamin Verdery is a Professor of Guitar at Yale University School of Music and the Artistic Director of the biennial Yale Guitar Extravaganza, with generous support from the D’Addario Foundation since 1985. Hailed for his innovative and eclectic musical career, Verdery has been Artistic Director of 92Y’s Art of the Guitar series (NYC) since 2006.
Since 1980 he has performed worldwide in theaters and at festivals, among them Theatre Carré and Concertgebouw (Amsterdam); the International Guitar Festival in Havana; Wigmore Hall (London); Festival Internacional de Guitarra de Taxco (Mexico); Iserlohn Festival in Germany; and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Metropolitan Opera, and Carnegie Hall (New York). His tours regularly take him throughout the USA, Canada, Europe, and Asia. He has recorded and performed with an eclectic group of artists: John Williams, Herman Prey, Andy Summers, Jessye Norman, Paco Peña, Frederic Hand, William Coulter, Leo Kottke, Anthony Newman, Bryce Dessner, and most recently, hip-hop artist Billy Dean Thomas.
As a recording artist, Verdery has released over 15 CDs. His latest include Happy Here (2011) with William Coulter; First You Build A Cloud (2007), a collaboration with Andy Summers of The Police; and Branches (2007), a solo album featuring arrangements of Bach, Mozart, Strauss, and Hendrix. His recording of his solo composition Start Now won the 2005 Classical Recording Foundation Award.
Ben has been commissioned and recorded by some of the world’s foremost guitarists, including the Assad Brothers, David Russell, John Williams, and the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. His piece Ellis Island for guitar ensemble has had numerous performances around the world and was recently featured on NYC’s New Sounds Live.
In 2007 Ben was appointed as an honorary board member of the Suzuki Association of the Americas, and the summer of 2016 marks the 18th anniversary of his annual Maui Master Class on the island of Maui in Hawaii.
Martin Bresnick's compositions—which run the gamut from opera, chamber, and symphonic music to film scores and computer music—are performed throughout the world today. Bresnick delights in reconciling the seemingly irreconcilable, bringing together repetitive gestures derived from minimalism with a harmonic palette that encompasses both highly chromatic sounds and more open, consonant harmonies with a raw power reminiscent of rock. At times his musical ideas spring from hardscrabble sources, often with a very real political import. But his compositions never descend into agitprop; their meaning is revealed in the unfolding of the music itself, always on its own terms.
Ezra Laderman (1924-2015), one of the leading American composers of the modern era, was a prolific composer in a range of genres. He produced symphonies, chamber works, operas, and concertos performed by many leading ensembles and soloists. In addition, he was an educator and administrator, holding numerous positions and titles. These included Professor of Composition and Dean of the Yale School of Music, Chairman of Music Programs at the National Endowment for the Arts, and President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
A winner of the coveted 2002 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition and one of the youngest composers ever awarded the Pulitzer Prize, Aaron Jay Kernis has taught composition at the Yale School of Music since 2003. His music appears prominently on orchestral, chamber, and recital programs worldwide. He has been commissioned for many of the world’s foremost performing artists, including sopranos Renée Fleming and Dawn Upshaw, violinists Joshua Bell, James Ehnes and Nadja Salerno–Sonnenberg, and guitarist Sharon Isbin, as well as by institutions including the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Walt Disney Company, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Kernis was awarded the Nemmers Prize from Northwestern University, the Stoeger Prize from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Rome Prize. Two of his works, Air and Second Symphony, have received Grammy nominations. He is Workshop Director of the Nashville Symphony Composer Lab and previously served as New Music Adviser to the Minnesota Orchestra. Moreover, he co-founded and directed the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute for 11 years and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Kernis' music is available on Nonesuch, Phoenix, New Albion, Argo, New World, CRI, Naxos, Virgin, Arabesque, and other labels. He currently lives in New York City with his wife and two children.
Hailed by The New York Times as “striking and resourceful…handsomely brooding,” Hannah Lash’s music has been performed worldwide with commissions from The Fromm Foundation, The Naumburg Foundation, The Boston Symphony Chamber Players, Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, Orchestra of the Swan, and Talujon Percussion, among others. Lash has received numerous honors and prizes, including a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a fellowship from the Yaddo Artist Colony, the Naumburg Prize, the Barnard Rogers Prize, and the Bernard and Rose Sernoffsky Prize in Composition. Lash obtained her PhD in Composition from Harvard University in 2010. She has held teaching positions at Harvard University and Alfred University, and she currently serves on the composition faculty at Yale University School of Music.
Christopher Theofanidis’ compositions have been rendered by leading orchestras around the world, including the London Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony, the Moscow Soloists, and the National, Baltimore, St. Louis, and Detroit Symphonies. He has served as Composer of the Year for the Pittsburgh Symphony and has had a long collaboration over the past two decades with Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony. Mr. Theofanidis has written extensively for the stage, with operas for the San Francisco Opera and Houston Grand Opera as well as ballets for the American Ballet Theatre and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company. His large-scale choral-orchestral work The Here and Now (2005) was nominated for a Grammy, and his orchestral work Rainbow Body (2000) has already been performed by over 150 orchestras worldwide in its brief lifespan. Mr. Theofanidis has taught at both the Peabody Conservatory and the Juilliard School, and he is currently on the faculty at both Yale University and the Aspen Music Festival.
"Ingram Marshall distills a form of minimalism that eschews the austere formalism of the genre's early landmarks [...] instead focusing on using the barest of means to conjure music that is deep in atmosphere and emotional potency." For the past two decades Marshall has been a resident of New Haven, where he is on the composition faculty at Yale. He has collaborated with Ben Verdery on several works, most notably Soepa for classical guitar and digital processing. His recorded music is found on Nonesuch New Albion and New World.
David Lang is a composer living in New York City. His composition the little match girl passion, commissioned by Carnegie Hall, was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Music. In 2016, Lang was nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and several others, for his music in Paolo Sorrentino’s film YOUTH. Lang is a Professor of Music Composition at the Yale School of Music and is co-founder and co-artistic director of New York's legendary music festival Bang on a Can.
As a composer, Jack Vees cultivates a distinctive and personal musical style that is instantly recognizable. His music unselfconsciously combines rigorous formal thinking with the raw energy of rock, funk, and other popular idioms, all colored with an irreverent and acerbic wit. Vees was profiled in Rolling Stone as a pioneer of music technology and hailed as a “21st century alchemist.”