By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Friday, August 19, 2016

Versatile Canadian Guitarist Paints Spanish, South American And Classical Colors

Talking about guitars and South America in the preceding blog, I couldn't help recalling a memorable Spanish guitar recital I had attended and reviewed in New Delhi 30 years ago.

One of the rewards of writing on Western music in a prestigious English newspaper in India's capital city was that when reviewing rare performances of some genres of music unfamiliar in Indian music circles, it was necessary to view the events in a historic and geographic perspective for the benefit of most readers -- thus creating opportunities for writing wide-angled essays which would transcend the immediate context and would be readable even long afterwards, as part of a useful cultural chronicle.  

I hope the following text fulfils that expectation :- 


Carnatic music  --  Classical music of South India.

Kamani Hall  --  Spacious (600+) modern concert hall in New Delhi. 

Tamil  --  South Indian language, with classical roots, mainly spoken in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

New Delhi

20 February 1987

Glamorous Guitarist From Canada

The powerful sound of the acoustic and electric versions of the metal-stringed guitar (played with a piece of metal, wood or bone called the 'plectrum'), accompanied by an array of other instruments including drums, has become universally familiar as a result of the increasing influence of Western popular music all over the world.   

But the subtle sound of the Spanish guitar (the gut or nylon strings of which are plucked or strummed with the fingers), played in a folk or true classical style, is a rare thing to hear except in the Iberian peninsula or the Spanish or Portuguese speaking countries of Latin America.

The ancestry of the modern version of the classical guitar can be traced back to the lute family of the Renaissance period ;  but its present shape, working repertoire and playing techniques have by and large been developed only within the last hundred years or so.  In Western classical music, the guitar has only a marginal role to play, like the clarinet in Carnatic music.  Generally, classical music for the guitar is provided by transcriptions of compositions meant for the piano, harpischord, etc. 

Although in New Delhi these days we have a fairly good flow of Western music, an authentic Spanish guitar recital is a very rare event.  The virtuosity of master performers like Andres Segovia, Manuel Lopez Ramos, Narcisco Yepes, Alexandre Lagoya, Turibio Santos, Julian Bream or John William  --  or the works of composers like Fernando Sor, Frederico Torroba, Francisco Tarrega, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Manuel Ponce, Antonio Lauro, Frank Martin or Malcolm Arnold  --  are quite unfamiliar to us here in India.

Mixed colors 

Therefore, the two guitar recitals given recently by the Canadian guitarist Liona Boyd (who has studied under Lagoya and Bream, among others), as part of the wide-ranging Canadian Week gala in the Capital, were very welcome.  I attended the second recital last Friday, and it was a rewarding experience.

Under the limelight, Liona's abundant blonde hair gives her the look of a majestic lion, in spite of her frail figure.  But the glamorous image she projects on the concert platform owes as much to the excellence of her performance as to the force of her presence. 

In the first half of the recital, she presented, among other things, three short classical works by Bach, transcribed from his scores for the harpsichord and the flute, as well as three modern pieces composed by the French-Canadian Richard Fortin.  This was followed by a lilting piece with a heavy Latin American accent, composed by the guitarist herself.

The second half of the concert was exclusively tinted by Spanish and Latin American colors, for which the finger-style guitar is ideally suited.  To start with, there were two transcribed numbers entitled Mallorca and Asturias, by the pianist-composer Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909), who was known for his patriotic fervor and had drawn considerable inspiration from the rich tradition of Spanish folk music.  This was followed by a famous work called Recuerdos de la Alhambra ('Memories of Alhambra'), by the Spanish guitarist-composer Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909), who had written or transcribed nearly 200 pieces for the classical guitar.   

Ms. Boyd then took us on a delightful tour of South America.  The highlights of this section were two lively pieces with a Brazilian touch , composed by the guitarist herself, and a folk melody of the Inca tribes of Peru, which strongly resembled the nostalgic Gurani music of Paraguay and invoked visions of gray mountains, green valleys, and poncho-clad hillmen riding lethargic ponies.

The performance was characterized throughout by the measured and immaculate rendering of the chosen works, the tremolo sequences emerging as the performer's strongest point, especially in her recital of Tarrega's intricate composition Alhambra.

Apparently the concert was a rare treat for the enitre international community in the Capital, for the full gathering in the Kamani hall, which was dominated by foreigners, responded to every number with  resounding applause.

PostScript, 2026

Wide range of mixed menu  

There's a Tamil turn of phrase which says that to test a whole pot of boiled rice, it's enough to test a single grain of it.   Seen in that light, the memorable performance by Liona Boyd in New Delhi 30 years ago was a convincing cross-section of the very wide range of her many-sided repertoire.

Reading my own review after such a long time, I was tempted to look for her name on YouTube, and found she's still very active.  The following and other related videos will give you a good idea of her colorful accomplishment :-

                                                La MalagueƱa 

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