by Jarrett Hoffman
The shift online for concerts over the past year has included world premieres. And as amazing as it can be to gather in a room with other people and hear something that’s never been heard before, there’s a positive side to the new format. When the player has a history of not only winning solo competitions, but also creating impressive and stylish videos, perhaps a new piece can sail off into the world with a little extra propulsion.
That might well be the case with the next program from the Cleveland Classical Guitar Society. In a free, pre-recorded recital on Saturday, February 27 at 7:30 pm, Stephanie Jones will introduce the world to Kevin Callahan’s The Whiskey Tales. The Australian-born, German-based guitarist — who has won first prize at the Hannabach Guitar Competition, among other awards — also makes her Cleveland debut.
Adding to the sense of newness, the selections include music by three other living composers — Richard Charlton, Quique Sinesi, and Leo Brouwer — as well as Tárrega, Bonfá, Piazzolla, and Jobim. See the full program here, and RSVP to the concert here.
I reached Jones at her home in Munich to talk about the Callahan, Charlton, and Sinesi pieces, creating videos, and releasing her third solo album right at the start of the pandemic. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Jarrett Hoffman: Let’s start with the Kevin Callahan premiere — how did that come about?
Stephanie Jones: It was through something called Guitar by Masters. They’re a publishing company that’s putting new music online, and they have this learning software where you can read the score at the same time as watching somebody play it. They use guitar masters [she gestures to herself and laughs] and basically put us in contact with composers. I did some pieces by Sérgio Assad for that, and after I was done with that project, they put me in touch with Kevin and these wonderful little pieces that he’s written.
JH: Tell me a little bit about these pieces.
SJ: They have a sort of Scottish flavor to them. The first movement is inspired by an island off the coast of Scotland, Jura, and it has this Celtic flair. The second movement has a bluesy power and attitude to it, and the third is about the whirlpools around Scotland — the churning of these waves. So it’s a very picturesque work, very visual, and it has these rock and blues elements to it as well. I’m so glad I had this opportunity to meet Kevin and be able to work on this piece.
JH: It’s been great to still be hearing premieres during the pandemic.
SJ: I released a CD at the start of last year, in March, and there was a premiere piece on that as well, a piece that Sérgio wrote for me. The plan was, in April I would tour the U.S. — travel around, premiere this new piece, and play the CD. One of the stops I had planned was in Texas, and Sérgio was going to be in the audience — it was going to be this nice thing with the Fort Worth Classical Guitar Society. And everything’s been forced online.
One thing that’s really fantastic with my platform is that I’m able to promote new music. There’s another piece that I actually just released as a premiere on YouTube — my latest video [screenshot below]. It’s called Beneath A River of Stars by Richard Charlton.
JH: Who’s also on this program.
SJ: He is — with The Black Cockatoo Flying Alone. A beautiful piece, that one, so I approached him and asked, could you write something else like it? I think a lot of Australian composers are inspired by the nature there — the animals, the landscapes — and he’s no exception. The black cockatoo is this huge blackbird in Australia that usually mates for life. But I really love playing this type of music because it’s so visual, and it’s so easy to communicate feelings and ideas and emotions. There’s just so much there.
JH: We should also talk about Quique Sinesi’s Cielo Abierto, which is basically the title track on your album [Open Sky]. You wrote this great description of the piece, and how you see it as “celebrating a love for life intertwined with a strong sense of hope and possibility — as if it is aiming higher than the saying ‘the sky is the limit!’” I thought that was a really powerful thing to write, especially at the start of the pandemic. But of course, you couldn’t have had that in mind.
SJ: No, I had no insider knowledge (laughs). But yeah, it’s a feeling of joy and hope, and there’s this rhythmic groove that goes throughout the piece. I love playing South American music. It has so much life to it — so much energy, and passion. So I had to include that on the program. And I might actually be playing with Quique Sinesi in a couple of months, hopefully. That’ll be a really cool experience. He’s from Argentina, and I think he lives in Berlin.
JH: How did the album release go, coming when it did?
SJ: I did this kickstarter, and it went really well. I had so many fantastic supporters. I managed to get the CD’s made and sent to me — it was within Germany — but then I couldn’t send them out. So I had, like, hundreds of CD’s just sitting in a box in my room. And I felt so bad, because these people give you the money to make the CD, and then you can’t send it — it was only until around October that I could even get some of them to the U.S. But the response has been really great. I’m so thankful for that.
JH: You mentioned the new Charlton video earlier. I had a chance to check out your YouTube channel, and aside from just the great music, I think there’s a funness and a flavor to your videos the way they’re shot. Is that something that translates to this Guitar Society recital?
SJ: We’ve got lots of different camera angles for this concert, and we even have one shot that moves a little bit. We had a lot of fun recording it. And we’ve got a beautiful painting in the background made by LeDania, who’s a Columbian street artist — it’s actually the cover of my CD. The original is a meter by a meter, so it’s quite large. [Jones took the computer — and me — on a quick trip to her living room to see it, hung elegantly on the wall between two guitars.]
JH: Well, congratulations on the album, and on this debut of yours in Cleveland.
SJ: Thanks! It’ll be funny because it’s going to be streamed at 7:30 your time. And that’s late for me. We’re having a little post-concert Zoom call, and it’s going to be, like, 3 am here — so it’ll be me, with coffee. I’ll be tired, but it’ll be good.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com February 23, 2021.
Click here for a printable copy of this article