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“Without a doubt a great guitarist possessing an astonishing technique.”—Cordoba Times (Spain)

Benjamin Verdery, guitar

ALBÉNIZ: Córdoba from Chant d’Espagne, Op. 232 (arr. J. Williams)
LADERMAN: On Vineyard Sound
BACH: Suite in E-flat major, BWV 1010 (arr. Verdery)*
VERDERY: Now and Ever
MOZART: Adagio, K. 540 (arr. Verdery)

PRINCE: Kiss (arr. Verdery)
NEWMAN: 
In Germany Before the War (arr. Verdery)
BLACKWELL/PRESLEY: Don’t Be Cruel (arr. Verdery)

*Performed on a baritone classical guitar

This concert is approximately 1 hour and 25 minutes in duration.

Please note all weekday concerts now begin at 7:30 pm. 

 

Pre-concert interview at 6:30 pm with composer Ezra Laderman.

Benjamin Verdery
BACH: Cello Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012 – Prelude; Sarabande; Gavottes
(92Y Archives)

Explore The Music

(Click the names below to expand info.)

ALBÉNIZ: Córdoba from Chant d’Espagne, Op. 232 (arr. J. Williams)

ISAAC ALBÉNIZ

Born Camprodon, Spain, May 29, 1860; died Cambô-les-Bains, France, May 18, 1909
Córdoba from Chant d’Espagne, Op. 232 (arr. J. Williams)
Composed in 1896-97; 6 minutes


Everything from popular salon styles to the most advanced ideas from major conservatories shows up in the music of the peripatetic pianist Isaac Albeniz. He frequently imitates sounds and techniques of the guitar in his piano music, and it transfers readily to the plucked instrument. (Albeniz is reported to have flattered Tarrega by saying that he preferred Tarrega’s transcriptions of his music to the originals.) Published erratically, Albeniz’ piano music is almost as wayward in its chronology and titles as his itineraries were geographically.

Albeniz put this poetic little note about Córdoba on the title page: “In the silence of the night, interrupted by the whispers of breezes perfumed with jasmine, the guzlas play [the guzla was a type of Moorish fiddle, usually with a single string], accompanying the serenades and diffusing in the air ardent melodies and notes as sweet as the swaying of the palms high above.”

Although he did write a handful of sonatas, most of Albeniz’ mature piano music takes the form of A-B-A character pieces. Córdoba is different, in that it opens with an austere modal chorale. The ensuing dance, however, is A-B-A in form, with a haunted return of the chorale at the end of the B section.

© 2013 John Henken

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LADERMAN: On Vineyard Sound

EZRA LADERMAN

Born Brooklyn, June 29, 1924
On Vineyard Sound
Composed in 2009 for Benjamin Verdery; 10 minutes

Ezra Laderman studied composition with Stefan Wolpe and Otto Luening, earning degrees from Brooklyn College and Columbia University. He came to Yale in 1988 as a visiting composer and then served as dean of Yale’s School of Music for the next six years. He continues to teach composition at Yale, where he is a colleague of guitarist Benjamin Verdery. He has composed in most genres and mediums of art music, including eleven string quartets and seven concertos.

Laderman’s wife, Dr. Aimlee Laderman, is a limnologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole on Cape Cod. Vineyard Sound is the body of water separating Martha’s Vineyard from Cape Cod.

Laderman’s music is a roiling toccata of strong cross-currents and rip tides, some thing like a piano rag written by Bartok. It has a sort of lead motif—the first four notes, repeated at the beginning—that anchors the form with suggestions of variation, development and a clear recapitulation, but it is energized with playful syncopations and metrical shifts, often over pedal tones and rhythmic ostinatos.

© 2013 John Henken

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BACH: Suite in E-flat major, BWV 1010 (arr. Verdery)

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH

Born Eisenach, March 21, 1685; died Leipzig, July 28, 1750
Suite in E-flat major, BWV 1010 (arr. Verdery)
Composed c. 1720; 24 minutes

The six Suites that Bach composed for solo cello come from the seven-year period (1717–1723) that he spent as Kapellmeister for Prince Leopold. The young Prince spent upwards of a quarter of his income on music-making, and often joined in himself. In addition to the cello Suites, the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, the Brandenburg Concertos, and Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier, and many other works, date from this happy period.

All six of the Suites have the same overall form, similar to other dance suites of the time. Each opens with a prelude, followed by an allemande, a courante, two modish French galanterien and a gigue. Why Bach became fascinated with writing music for unaccompanied melody instruments at a time when his official workload was dance-oriented remains a mystery, but he certainly took the conventional dance suite into rarefied realms with this music.

The Fourth Suite is one of the warmest and simplest at the surface, but rich in contrast and subtext. The Prelude begins with placidly falling broken chords, gradually become more dissonant. Reversing the downward motion increases the ten sion dramatically, until a descending bass line, under four bars of G-minor, crashes onto a raised sixth. The second half of the Prelude struggles to work itself back from this point, breaking out into roulades of swirling 16th notes that contend the rest of the movement with the broken chords.

The Allemande flows elegantly with just enough rhythmic step to keep its dance origin in mind—and in gently tapping toes. The volatile, highly kinetic Courante varies its 8th note patterns with volleys of 16ths and gigue-like triplets. As in all of the suites, the Sarabande is the emotional center. Here though, it is tender and exquisitely refined rather than pained or otherworldly, characterized by its aristocratic dotted rhythms and mellow harmony.

The vigorous Bourrees are probably the best-known portions of this Suite as excerpts. The first is zesty and athletic, the miniature second one an affecting contrast with a hesitating, syncopated gait. The concluding Gigue is as earthy and robustly muscled as the first Bourree and even more intricately patterned in its 12/8 moto perpetuo flights.

© 2013 John Henken

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VERDERY: Now and Ever (arr. Verdery)

BENJAMIN VERDERY

Born Danbury, Connecticut, October 1, 1955
Now and Ever
Composed in 2007; 10 minutes

Benjamin Verdery is hardly a stranger to guitar audiences at 92nd Street Y. One of the instrument’s most collegial champions, he has been artistic dirctor of the 92Y Guitar Institute for years.

He is also often present through his compositions, which reveal a great appreciation of the more traditional aspects of the guitar and a questing spirit that revels in fresh timbres and textures. Unusual tunings is one area of particular interest to Verdery, and a unique scordatura underlies Now and Ever. The tuning is D, G, D, A, B-flat, E (from bottom to top) and it is that half-step interval (A to B-flat) that generates much of the harmonic and melodic direction.

"Now and Ever begins with a minor second [half-step] and drifts away with it at the end of the second movement,” Verdery writes. “The interval in my mind represents the struggle and sorrow of so many repressed peoples throughout the ages. The piece is my musical statement against slavery of any kind. The first movement begins and ends rather like a meditation on the half-step interval and becomes more animated in the center. The second movement is in a loose rondo form. Its rhythmic foundation and vitality is primarily based on the repetitive 7/8, 6/8, and 5/8 measures. The movement ends with a hopeful tremolo theme that has a slightly ‘circular’ musical feeling because of the voice-leading and harmony."

© 2013 John Henken

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MOZART Adagio, K. 540 (arr. Verdery)

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART

Born Salzburg, January 27, 1756; died Vienna, December 5, 1791
Adagio, K. 540 (arr. Verdery)
Composed in 1788; 4 minutes

Mozart’s catalog in the mid-1780s is peppered with independent single movement works for keyboard, including fantasias, rondos, and this astonishingly expressive Adagio in B minor. (Benjamin Verdery plays it in D minor.) William Glock, writing about those pieces in The Compleat Mozart, suggests that it takes sonata form, but that is hard to hear and see. Sonata principles, yes: there is motivic development aplenty and the resolution of contending tonal hierarchies. But both halves of this binary movement are repeated and end in the tonic both times, with modulating first and second endings, plus a dramatic cadenza-like coda that dissipates all the preceding anguish to end in B major. The battle is not won, however, until the final, fading two-and-a-half bars and Mozart needs all of it to make that soft landing convincing.

© 2013 John Henken

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PRINCE | NEWMAN | BLACKWELL/PRESLEY

PRINCE

Born Minneapolis, June 7, 1958
Kiss (arr. Verdery)
Composed in 1985; 2 minutes

RANDY NEWMAN

Born Los Angeles, November 28, 1943
In Germany Before the War (arr. Verdery)
Composed in 1977; 3 minutes

OTIS BLACKWELL / ELVIS PRESLEY

Born Brooklyn, February 16, 1931; died Nashville, May 2, 2002
Born Tupelo, Mississippi, January 8, 1935; died Memphis, August 16, 1977
Don’t Be Cruel (arr. Verdery)
Composed in 1956; 3 minutes

The guitar is the original multi-cultural cross-over instrument. It brought vernacular songs and dances into the world of European art music, and it disseminated arrangements of motets and instrumental ensemble compositions to a wider audience. Benjamin Verdery’s first passion for the guitar was inspired by The Beatles, and the guitar as the frontline instrument for rock bands has now inspired several generations of stylistically omnivorous guitarists.

“Early in my career I thought I should be playing ‘folk’ music from my country and began arranging songs that I grew up with or have liked over the years,” Verdery says. “The process is generally that I write out all the parts the best I can. I use that as main material and add my own material that seems musically appropriate to form a little piece. The inspiration first comes from my love of the songwriter, and then there has to be some element about the song I think will sound great on the classical guitar.”

Prince’s “Kiss” began its still-productive life as an acoustic demo, which was reworked by the funk band Mazarati. After rehearsing that version, Prince took it back, subbing in a new lead vocal and a guitar break. “Kiss” was released in 1986, went gold in three months, won a Grammy, and became a sing-along favorite.

“In Germany Before the War” is from Randy Newman’s fourth album, Little Criminals (1977), best-known for its first track, “Short People.” “In Germany Before the War” was inspired by Fritz Lang’s film M, in which Peter Lorre played a serial child-killer, in circumstances similar to an actual killer in Dusseldorf at the time. The song can also be heard as a metaphor for the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, as the killers of innocence. Newman sets it as a somber, almost stunned reflection; a pared down piano ballad in the darkest, bleakest cabaret style.

Otis Blackwell wrote “Don’t Be Cruel,” but with 28 takes in the studio, Elvis Presley probably earned his co-writing credit. Elvis recorded it in 1956 for a single with “Hound Dog” on the other side, and the two songs dominated the pop charts, selling more than four million copies in only half a year. Scotty Moore played the jaunty lead lick that sounds just fine on classical guitar. Some of the runs in the arrangement, however, reference another one of Verdery’s guitar heroes, Jeff Beck. Verdery recorded his version for an acoustic guitar tribute album, A Guitar for Elvis.

© 2013 John Henken

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Artist Bio

Benjamin Verdery

Artistic director of 92nd Street Y’s Art of Guitar series since 2006, Benjamin Verdery is hailed for his innovative and eclectic musical career. Since 1980 he has performed worldwide in theaters and at festivals, including Theatre Carre in Amsterdam, the International Guitar Festival at Havana, Wigmore Hall in London, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Metropolitan Opera in New York. His tours regularly take him throughout the US, Canada, Europe and Asia. He has recorded and performed with such diverse artists as Andy Summers, Frederic Hand, William Coulter, Leo Kottke, Anthony Newman, Jessye Norman, Paco Pena, Hermann Prey and John Williams.

Mr. Verdery has released more than 15 albums, his most recent being Happy Here with William Coulter; and Branches, featuring works of Bach, Strauss, Jimi Hendrix, Mozart and the traditional Amazing Grace, both for Mushkatweek. His recording, Start Now, also for Mushkatweek, won the 2005 Classical Recording Foundation Award.

Many of the leading composers of our time have written music for Mr. Verdery, including Ezra Laderman, Martin Bresnick, John Anthony Lennon, Anthony Newman, Roberto Sierra, Van Stiefel and Jack Vees. Of particular note was the commission by the Yale University Music Library of a work by Ingram Marshall for classical and electric guitars. Mr. Verdery and Mr. Summers premiered the work, Dark Florescence, at Carnegie Hall with the American Composers Orchestra and repeated it at the Belfast Festival with the Ulster Orchestra. Last December, the two guitarists and friends appeared at the annual Amsterdam Electric Guitar Heaven.

Mr. Verdery is a prolific published composer in his own right. Last year he was commissioned to compose two pieces: Stand in Your Own Light, written for guitar and koto, by the Tenri Cultural Institute in New York; and Penzacola Belongs to All, commissioned by the Pensacola Guitar Orchestra in celebration of its 30th anniversary, which he premiered with the ensemble. In 2010 the Assad Duo premiered What He Said, commissioned by 92Y and dedicated to the late luthier Thomas Humphrey. Doberman–Yppan (Canada) currently publishes his solo and duo works for guitar.

In addition to his performances, tours and recording, Mr. Verdery has been chair of the guitar department at the Yale University School of Music since 1985 and artistic director of the biennial Yale Guitar Extravaganza. He was appointed an honorary board member of the Suzuki Association of the Americas in 2007. Each summer Mr. Verdery holds his Annual International Master Class on the Island of Maui (Hawaii). He uses D'Addario strings and guitars by Greg Smallman and Christopher Carrington. His website is benjaminverdery.com.

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