61. John De Chiaro and the First Performances of My Suite for Solo Guitar, Op. 21
2015 was an exciting year full of activity and also some transitions. Abendmusik Alexandria really began to take off in spring 2015, and in fall I made plans to return to my formal studies at graduate school. I meanwhile composed prolifically in the first part of the year and then in the second part built and launched my new website. One of the most exciting aspects of 2015 though was working with classical guitarist John De Chiaro to perfect my Suite for Solo Guitar, Op. 21, written expressly for John in January 2015. It has been a great adventure so far as John and I have already given several highly-acclaimed and publicized performances, and there are still a few chapters to come, I imagine, in the creation of the Suite for Solo Guitar…
I gave my Suite for Solo Guitar to John one afternoon over lunch last January. From the beginning it was an adventure: John called me almost immediately to say he had lost the score somewhere and could I please print another copy. John knew it would be a few months before he would have time to begin learning the piece, but he was very excited about my new composition nonetheless. I was amazed when he told me that, in all his years as a professional guitarist, no one had ever written a piece for him.
As John began learning, I began receiving phone calls—he wanted to share with me the newest chord voicing he had learned, the newest melody. It was great fun receiving his regular updates, but the calls often seemed to come at the most inconvenient times. Once I was backstage about to introduce the Shreveport Opera; John called and sang the Suite’s opening melody to me over the phone. Another time, I was at a crawfish festival, and simply could not hear a word he was saying.
Twice John came by the Arts Council offices to play what he had learned for me and for my friends on staff. The first time, John shared the First Movement Leyenda; a few months later, it was the full Suite. John’s realizations were sometimes a little different than I had imagined when composing at the computer, but he and I enjoyed exchanging ideas on the piece and perfecting it together. His Third Movement Scherzo, for example, was much faster than I had written it—he wanted to play it like Julian Bream he insisted—but I think in his hands it became my favorite movement before we were done.
By late September, John had the full Suite ready to go. He gave the unofficial premiere at Holy Savior Menard High School on September 28 when he and I spoke to two fine arts survey classes there. The students very much enjoyed hearing the piece, and the experience really brought music to life for them with the composer himself in their midst.
A much higher-profile performance came the following weekend on October 3 when John played the First Movement at Red River Radio’s 30th Anniversary Benefit hosted by Fred Child, the voice of public radio’s Performance Today. Mr. Child was very complimentary of my First Movement and said he would love to hear the rest of the piece; I told him as soon as we had a recording we would mail it his way. Fellow composers in the audience Kermit Poling and Nettie Chenevert also congratulated me on the new piece.
Less than a week later on Friday, October 9, John was with Kermit at Red River Radio in Shreveport, and Kermit asked John to play the full Suite over the airwaves broadcasting it live to their entire coverage area—central and northern Louisiana, east Texas, south Arkansas, and parts of Mississippi. Although I was a hundred miles south in Alexandria, I stayed active in the discussion, communicating with Kermit via Facebook and thanking him for his support.
My Guitar Suite reached its furthest audiences, however, when John played it at two concerts in Pennsylvania the next week. October 14 he was at St. Patrick Church in Wilkes-Barre and October 15 he was at Holy Rosary in Scranton. I had originally contemplated making the drive with him, but alas I was hosting an Abendmusik Alexandria concert of my own on October 15 so I could not be there. John called me after the concerts though and said the audiences loved my piece giving it standing ovations both nights.
Finally, we gave the “official” world premiere at Abendmusik Alexandria’s “Classics and a Contemporary” on November 5. To promote the concert, John and I went on television, discussing the piece and performing its First Movement on a morning show at KALB News Channel 5. The Town Talk, Alexandria’s local newspaper, also came out to interview me, taking the angle that this would be the first time Alexandria would hear the music of its local composer.
The November 5 premiere was quite the spectacle. We had prepared for seventy people, but nearly one hundred showed up, leaving us to scramble to find additional chairs and leaving patrons to share programs. No one seemed to mind, however, and my piece again received a standing ovation. As part of the festivities, John also performed an arrangement of hymn tunes he had made for a local arts patron and was given, by another patron, a portrait she had commissioned of him playing guitar.
There have been several performances of the Suite for Solo Guitar since its premiere on November 5: at Louisiana College in Pineville on November 12 and at Alexandria’s BrainSurge on December 10. But, the November 5 premiere at Abendmusik marked the real culmination of this phase in the Suite’s lifespan. John and I are hoping to publish the piece and make a professional recording in the coming months, and hopefully there will be additional live performances soon too. Be sure to keep up with MusicCentral for updates!
About Jackson. Jackson Harmeyer is a music scholar, composer, and advocate of music. He is a graduate of the Louisiana Scholars’ College—Louisiana’s designated honors college located on the campus of Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. While there, Jackson completed an undergraduate thesis entitled “Learning from the Past: The Influence of Johann Sebastian Bach upon the Soviet Composers.” He has followed classical music around the world, attending the BachFest Leipzig in Germany, Colorado’s Aspen Music Festival, and many concerts across Louisiana and Texas. Resident in Alexandria, Louisiana, Jackson works with the Arts Council of Central Louisiana as Series Director of the Abendmusik Alexandria chamber music series. He also writes the program notes for the Rapides Symphony Orchestra, blogs at MusicCentral, and continues to study other aspects of music in his spare time. His four-movement Suite for Solo Guitar, Op. 21 received its world premiere on November 5, 2015 at Abendmusik Alexandria.
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