Playground, Peppino D'Agostino, Laurence Juber
February 18, 2011
Just came back from an evening of exciting guitar music at Denver's Swallow Hill. Two solo guitarists, playing acoustic with pick-ups through a P.A.. Fabulous virtuosity from both players. Peppino D'Agostino mixed his technical fireworks with Italian flavors including two vocals. Estate, the Bruno Martino song that has become a standard in many styles, had the audience in rapt silence, even though there was no translation offered.
Then came Laurence Juber with his driving groove-based interpretations of well-known and lesser-known songs, and playing ballads with utmost sensitivity. The colors and shadings these players coaxed out of their instruments had many in the audience sitting forward in their chairs, watching and listening with unflagging concentration.
Lots of hands went up when Peppino D'Agostino asked if there were any guitar players in the audience. That's par for the course at Swallow Hill, an organization dedicated to acoustic music, mostly folk and related styles, in classes and in concerts.
By contrast, The Playground Ensemble is a Denver organization dedicated to contemporary "classical" music - where the boundaries of "classical" are often pushed way out there. The ensemble performs all over Denver, always adventurous and refreshing programs, and it currently has a home as Artists in Residence at DU Denver, where Conrad Kehn, its founding director, is on the faculty.
Last night, on Thursday, at DU, they performed a program called "Now and Then", with pieces by Britten (for solo guitar), Ives (for soprano and piano), Purcell (recomposed by Conrad Kehn for chamber ensemble with vocals and electronics), Schnittke (the witty and irreverent Moz-art for two violins), Joan Tower (Petroushkates  for chamber quintet), and an astonishing version of the R. Parker and H. Charles song We'll Meet Again, recomposed by Tyler Gilmore for an ensemble comprised of soprano, soprano sax, clarinet, violin, piano, vibraphone with electronic effects, percussion, and electronics triggered from a laptop. Shades of jazz, rock, electronics, "classical" - hard to define, exceedingly well played, refreshing to hear.
And soon, for something completely different again, I'll be listening to a recital next Tuesday by violinist Hilary Hahn with pianist Valentina Lisitsa, at a Friends of Chamber Music subscription concert, mixing old and new in a program that includes Tartini, Beethoven, Ives, Bach, and Antheil.
A week from tonight it will be a "Berlioz Behind The Score" symphony concert with lecture at the Boettcher Hall, home of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.
Never a dull musical moment in Denver - can't beat live music!