Benjamin Verdery, guitar

Saturday, July 5, 2014, 6:30 pm

American Landscapes II: Music of the Americas


Benjamin Verdery (b.1955)

Les Barricades Mystérieuses
François Couperin (1668-1733)

Now and Ever
(in 2 movements)

Cello Suite in E-flat Major, No. 4, BWV 1010 (1720)
J.S. Bach (1685-1750) (arr. B. Verdery for baritone guitar)
Bourrée 1 & 2


Soepa Ingram Marshall (b. 1945)
For digital delay and loops
(written for B. Verdery) (in 3 movements)

Four Short Pieces by Four Latino Masters
(All arrangements by Ben Verdery)
1. Prelude no. 2
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
2. Angostura
Antonio Lauro (1917-1986)
3. Julia Florida
Agustín Barrios (1885-1944)
4. Danza Característica
Leo Brouwer (b.1939)

Four North American Songs
(All arrangements by Ben Verdery)
1. Kiss
Prince (b. 1958)
2. Cinnamon Girl
Neil Young (b. 1945)
3. In Germany Before the War
Randy Newman (b. 1943)
4. Don’t Be Cruel
Otis Blackwell (1932-2002) /Elvis Presley (1935-1977)


Sunday, July 6, 4 pm: Calder Quartet

American Landscapes III: California Style
Music of Beethoven, Janáček, and Thomas Adès (b. 1971)

next week

Saturday, July 12, 11 am: Young People's Concert
Kim & Reggie Harris

Saturday, July 12, 6:30 pm: Lara Downes, piano

Lady Day Remembered
Piano interpretations of music made famous by Billie Holiday, plus impressionist gems by Debussy, Prokofiev, and Fauré.

Sunday, July 13, 4 pm: Ensō String Quartet
with Frederic Chiu, piano

The World of Richard Strauss:
The Radical Conservative

Music of Mozart, Franz Schmidt, Erwin Schulhoff,
and Richard Strauss



Program Notes © 2014 by Miriam Villchur Berg*


Described as “iconoclastic” and “inventive” by The New York Times and “one of the classical guitar world’s foremost personalities,” by Classical Guitar Magazine, Benjamin Verdery enjoys an innovative and eclectic musical career.

Since 1980 Benjamin Verdery has performed worldwide in theatres and at festivals, including Theatre Carré (Amsterdam); the International Guitar Festival (Havana, Cuba); Wigmore Hall (London); the 92nd Street Y; the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; and the Metropolitan Opera. His tours regularly take him to Canada, Europe, Asia, and throughout the United States. He has recorded and performed with such diverse artists as Andy Summers, Frederic Hand, William Coulter, Leo Kottke, Anthony Newman, Jessye Norman, Paco Peña, Hermann Prey, and John Williams. Several composers have written music for him, including Ezra Laderman, Martin Bresnick, Daniel Asia, John Anthony Lennon, Anthony Newman, Roberto Sierra, Van Stiefel, and Jack Vees. Of particular note was the commissioning (by the Yale University Music Library) of a work by Ingram Marshall for classical and electric guitars. Benjamin and Andy Summers premiered Dark Fluorescence at Carnegie Hall with the American Composers Orchestra and at the Belfast Festival (Ireland) with the Ulster Orchestra.

Benjamin has released over fifteen albums, his most recent being Happy Here, with William Coulter, and Branches, which includes works by J.S. Bach, Strauss, Jimi Hendrix, and Mozart. His recording Start Now won the 2005 Classical Recording Foundation Award. His album Some Towns & Cities won the 1992 Guitar Player Magazine Best Classical Guitar Recording.

Many of Benjamin Verdery’s compositions have been performed, recorded, and published over the years. Most recently, Pensacola College commissioned a work for guitar orchestra commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of their guitar program, and the New York State Council on the Arts commissioned a work for koto and guitar. In 2010 the Assad Duo premiered Ben’s work What He Said, commissioned by the 92nd Street Y. Other recent works include Now and Ever (for David Russell), Peace, Love and Guitars (for John Williams and John Etheridge), Capitola (John Williams), and Give (for eight guitars). Ben’s Scenes from Ellis Island, for guitar orchestra, has been extensively broadcast and performed at festivals and universities in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Europe, and the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet included it on their CD Air and Ground.

Doberman-Yppan (Canada) is currently publishing his solo and duo works for guitar, and Workshop Arts has published the solo pieces from Some Towns & Cities as well as instructional books and video.

In addition to his performance tours and recording, Benjamin has since 1985 been chair of the guitar department at the Yale University School of Music and artistic director of the biannual Yale Guitar Extravaganza. He has also been artistic director of Art of the Guitar at the 92nd Street Y since 2006. Each summer, Benjamin holds his International Master Class on the island of Maui.





Benjamin Verdery wrote Capitola to honor the little seaside town in Northern California. He says that Capitola is the best place to have your morning coffee and watch sea gulls and sea lions, and he goes there at least yearly to visit friends.

François Couperin was renowned during his lifetime as a harpsichord player, teacher, composer, and organiste du roi (king’s organist) to Louis XIV. He is said to have corresponded with J. S. Bach, but none of his letters survive. Although he could not compete with Bach or Handel in contrapuntal artistry, his melodies were natural and flowing. Couperin gave colorful and picturesque titles to his works, and wrote: “The titles reflect my ideas; I may be forgiven for not explaining them all.” Indeed, we have no idea what was the inspiration for Les Barricades Mystérieuses (The Mysterious Barriers), one of his most famous pieces. The work, and its title, has been itself an inspiration for countless musical, literary, and graphic works of art.

Verdery writes: “I used an alternate tuning for Now and Ever – D, G, D, A, A-sharp, and E. The minor second between the third and second strings represents the struggle and sorrow of so many repressed peoples throughout the ages. The piece is my musical statement against slavery of any kind.”

Bach’s Suite No. 4 for Unaccompanied Cello in E flat is a series of dance movements, although by 1720 such suites were no longer meant to accompany actual dancers. The Prélude uses a series of arpeggios, interrupted periodically by short improvisation-like passages. The Allemande is a German dance in moderate 4/4 time. The Courante, a fast French dance, has a sprightly feeling with an accented 3/4 meter. The Sarabande is a stately dance with a slow, legato melody. The Bourrée has short stepwise ascending and descending runs, while the second Bourrée makes a contrast by simply outlining the chords. The Gigue is a lively dance from the British Isles—think of a jig.

Ingram Marshall received his MFA from Columbia. He also studied Balinese gamelan music and electronic music, and incorporates those sounds in his works, which have been called post-minimalist. Marshall wrote Soepa for Benjamin Verdery at his request, using a classical guitar that is amplified and routed through a digital delay device. The composer writes: “The title means ‘patience’ in Tibetan. [It is] my own meditation on the idea that the more anxious you become about something the less likely it is to happen.” Heitor Villa-Lobos is the best known and most significant Brazilian composer, and perhaps the most important Latin American composer, to date. He taught himself guitar, and played in the street bands of his native Rio de Janeiro. As a young man he traveled the wilds of Brazil, collecting folklore and native music, and he spent three years in Paris, where his music was highly celebrated. His lifelong friendship with guitarist Andrés Segovia resulted in many pieces, including the Five Preludes (1940).

The Prelude No. 2 uses the capabilities and sonorities of the guitar to great advantage. We hear the joyous rhythms of Brazilian dance music in the opening. The virtuosic right-hand technique of tremolo (rapid repetition of each note) gives the middle section intensity, after which the dance returns.

Venezuelan composer Antonio Lauro studied piano and violin at the Caracas Conservatory, but after hearing a concert by Agustín Barrios, decided to change to the guitar. The junta of Gen. Marcos Pèrez Jiménez imprisoned Lauro in 1951 for espousing democracy. He continued to compose while incarcerated, later saying that prison was a normal part of life for a Venezuelan man of his generation. Angostura is the ancient name for Ciudad Bolívar, Lauro’s birthplace. It is a waltz, with alternating 3/4 and 6/8 meters in the style of the music of Venezuela.

Agustín Barrios was a Paraguayan classical guitarist and composer. He was a child prodigy who excelled in math, literature, and languages as well as music. He composed more than three hundred songs, and was renowned for his phenomenal performances across South and Central America. The ballad Julia Florida may refer to Barrios’ birthplace, Villa Florida.

Leo Brouwer took private guitar lessons in his native Cuba, and went on to study at the University of Hartford and Juilliard. He returned to Cuba to teach at the Havana Conservatory. Danza característica employs the driving rhythms and complex meters of Cuban music, combined with specialized guitar techniques such as string harmonics.

Prince is an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and actor. He has recorded ten platinum albums and thirty Top 40 singles, has won seven Grammys, a Golden Globe, and an Oscar, and is the only artist ever to have the number one album, single, and film at the same time (Purple Rain, 1984). His sexually explicit lyrics prompted Tipper Gore to found an organization to promote warning labels on CDs. During a copyright dispute, Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, and for several years was referred to as “The artist formerly known as Prince.” Kiss was a number-one single in 1986.

Neil Young is a Canadian singer-songwriter whose career spans more than fifty years. He is known for his high tenor voice, his distinctive guitar style, and his deeply personal lyrics. He has been part of the bands Buffalo Springfield; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (which performed at the 1969 Woodstock Festival); and Crazy Horse. He has several Grammys, and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He wrote the rock love song Cinnamon Girl, along with two other hits (“Cowgirl in the Sand” and “Down by the River”), in a single day while lying in bed with a fever of one-hundred and three degrees.

Randy Newman is an American singer-songwriter, arranger, composer, and pianist. He is known for his satirical songs and for his gravelly voice. He wrote the film scores for Meet the Parents, Seabiscuit, and seven Disney animated films. He has been nominated twenty times for Oscars and won twice, and has also won three Emmys and six Grammys. In Germany before the War is a somber and chilling song about a man watching a little girl. Many have seen the song as a reference to the movie M, in which Peter Lorre plays a serial killer, or to Peter Kürten, the so-called Vampire of Düsseldorf.

Otis Blackwell was one of the most important songwriters of popular music in the 1950s and 1960s. He composed more than a thousand songs, and other performers’ renditions of his songs have sold close to two hundred million records. He composed “Fever,” made famous by Peggy Lee; Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire”; and Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel.” Elvis rewrote some of the lyrics on a few songs (with Blackwell’s consent), earning himself a co-writing credit.

All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg. It is permissible to quote short excerpts for reviews. For permission to quote more extensive portions, or to copy,  publish, or make other use of these program notes, please contact her at Program Notes © 2014 by Miriam Villchur Berg