Simon Thacker: The Alternative Guitar
There was standing room only at the MacRobert Lecture Theatre on Wednesday for the first of Aberdeen University Music’s recitals given in association with the sound Festival this year. In keeping with the Festival’s aim of promoting new music, guitar virtuoso Simon Thacker presented a taster of contemporary music by composers from around the world.
Kenneth Dempster is a colleague of Simon Thacker’s at Napier University. His composition entitled Sanctum seemed to me to have its roots planted firmly in the mainstream of Spanish classical guitar music. There was even a hint of flamenco guitar in some of the musical language. An almost static, pensive opening soon blossomed into much more elaborate and muscular fingerboard work spanning much of the instrument’s range. As the piece progressed, different timbres were called into play, but the temptation to overdo such effects was avoided and the result was a carefully thought out and dignified work with a solid satisfying structure that carried the listener happily along in its wake.
Nigel Osborne is Reid Professor of music at the University of Edinburgh. His piece After Night was composed in 1977 and is therefore thirty years older than Kenneth Dempster’s newly minted composition. It was an intense and thoughtful piece that kept itself within far narrower limits of the instrument’s range. It exploited the more intimate appeal of the guitar, less showy than Dempster’s piece but every bit as compelling.
In the final pieces of the recital, two contrasting aspects of sound technology were used to expand the colour range of the solo guitar. Nigel Westlake is from Australia. His Hinchinbrook Riffs for guitar and digital delay, allowed Simon Thacker to duet live with himself as everything he played was repeated a moment later thus building up a wonderful kaleidoscopic shower of colliding guitar sounds. This was far more than just an atmospheric mishmash however. This music was firmly structured and progressed with clear directional force. Simon Thacker’s perfectly precise playing maintained the necessary clarity of texture in this music.
Shirish Korde is a composer of Indian descent who now lives and works in the USA. His Time Grids for amplified guitar and computer synthesised tape composed in 1988 was the most overtly virtuosic piece in the recital and was a splendid concluding gambit, leaving me quite breathless by the end. The prepared tape does not appear in the opening Allegro furioso where the guitar playing was amazingly athletic, spanning the whole fingerboard. The second movement, Sostenuto already had hints of the gamelan which was to become far more explicit from the tape in the finale. The wide leaps in the melodic line of the Sostenuto recalled an aspect of Webern’s music. The title of the third movement Mecanico was startlingly explicit at the start; there was indeed something of that throughout, although with the entry of the gamelan effect on the tape, the result was more exotic even impressionistic. Simon Thacker’s crazy flying fingerboard work as the piece reached its climactic conclusion was really something else! What a wonderful exposition of the contemporary possibilities of the classical guitar.
Copyright Alan Cooper
Thanks to University Music