by Mike Telin
For the past seventeen years, the Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival has brought some of the world’s finest classical guitarists, lutenists, lecturers, composers, teachers, and guitar makers to the Cleveland Institute of Music for three days of concerts, masterclasses, lectures, and demonstrations.
“It’s got to be one of the very best festivals in the world for our instrument,” guitarist Jason Vieaux said during a telephone interview. Vieaux, who heads the guitar department at CIM, credits CICGF founder and artistic director Armin Kelly for the Festival’s success. “For Armin it’s all about quality. Year in and year out, the players that he brings in are incredible, and the Festival is a tremendous gift to the City of Cleveland.”
Beginning on Friday, June 8 and continuing through Sunday, June 10, the 2018 edition of CICGF will feature thirteen artists and ensembles, five concerts, nine master classes, and three lectures. Click here to view the full schedule. Tickets are available online.
On Friday, June 8 at 7:30 pm in Mixon Hall, the Grammy-winning Vieaux will team up with his duo partner, accordionist Julien Labro, for this year’s opening concert. “We always try to pick repertoire from different genres, things that you might not expect our combination of instruments to play,” Labro said during a separate conversation. “Of course, when you combine an accordion/bandoneon with a classical guitar in a chamber recital, everyone expects Piazzolla, so we’ll be playing Escualo. I’ve played it so much that I told Jason that we need to personalize it a little, so we’ve come up with a version that touches on Reggae and a little Beyoncé.”
The evening will also include Labro’s recent arrangement of Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, a work the accordionist said he has admired for a long time. “I’ve always loved the piece, and we’re trying to do justice to it and honor what the composer intended. We’ve performed Fratres a few times and people say that we make it work. That’s always nice to hear when you take on the challenge of reworking material that is well-known.”
Another feature of the Duo’s program will be a re-imagining of Brazilian composer Radamés Gnattali’s Suite Retratos. “We’ve played it in the past, but we’re doing something quite different with it this time,” Vieaux said. “Each of the four movements is dedicated to a legendary Brazilian composer or musician, so Julien has inserted a series of musical quotes from each person’s music. It’s really fun to play live because this arrangement takes the piece into Brazilian jazz territory, where we’re improvising and playing our own solos over some of the changes.”
Vieaux and Labro included the work on their 2016 recording Infusion. That arrangement featured guest artists Peter Dominguez, bass, and Jamey Haddad, percussion. “Our version is constantly evolving,” Labro said. “While Gnattali was a great classical composer, he was also a Big Band leader — I think he had a ten-piece band that played different popular music festivals. He did everything, and reading about him made me think that this is exactly what Jason and I try to do with our project.”
A recent addition to the Duo’s repertoire is Bulgarian guitarist and composer Rossen Balanski’s Prelude and Scherzo. “Julien discovered him,” Vieaux said. “I had not heard of him, but he’s very talented and this piece is gorgeous.”
“Given his Bulgarian background, the meters are often in 7, 11, and 13,” Labro pointed out. “When I heard it, I thought it would be a good work for us to adapt — and the accordion is very popular in Bulgarian music. It’s very well written for the guitar and it was a no-brainer for me to create my take on the piano part.” The program will be rounded out by Vieaux’s arrangement of Pat Metheny’s Antonia.
Anyone who has heard Jason Vieaux and Julien Labro perform live know that they have created a musical niche that is unique to them — one that is built on high artistic standards, a never-ending musical curiosity, and having fun onstage. “I think for both of us it’s kind of a mutual admiration society,” Vieaux said. “Julien is a terrific reader and a virtuoso on his instrument. He’s a first-rate improviser, arranger, and composer. But I think we click because we’re kind of congruent with each other in terms of the music we appreciate, whether it’s hip hop, hard rock, jazz, or classical.”
Labro agreed that the partnership works because they try to stay away from labels. “We’re at a point where people should be able to play everything,” he said. “I think crossover is a term that’s been so overused and sometimes misused — if you’re going to play a Duke Ellington song, you have to understand what that means regarding his style. When Jason and I get together, one minute we can play Bach and the next minute play Tears for Fears. We can talk about hip hop or The Beatles or the importance of ornaments in Baroque music. It’s about exchanging ideas and having fun with it.”
During both conversations, the musicians used the word “fun” time and again. “I think as you get older you begin to appreciate playing music so much more,” Vieaux said. “After 25 years of touring it’s still one of the most enjoyable activities that I could think of doing. To think how lucky I am to be able to perform onstage, get applause, and make a living from playing with monster musicians like Sasha Cooke and Julien. It’s a privilege to get to work with musicians who are on that level.”
Labro summed it up like this. “We have as much fun onstage as offstage. Working with Jason is a piece of cake.”
On Sunday, June 10, at 4:30 Jason Vieaux and Julien Labro will present a master class in CIM’s Studio 113. The event is free and open to the public.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com May 30, 2018.
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