Guitar orchestra ranges from classical to modern music

The classical guitar is a simple instrument — encompassing only four octaves, and not generally loud

The classical guitar is a simple instrument — encompassing only four octaves, and not generally loud enough to compete with, say, horns or a string section.

As such, it has mostly been relegated to solo performances or small ensembles.

Sergi Vicente, founder and director of the Spanish Orquesta de Guitarras de Barcelona (Guitar Orchestra of Barcelona), is providing an opportunity for guitarists to play in a larger group setting.

“The guitar is, in general, a lonely instrument,” Vicente said recently via email from Spain, roughly a week before heading out on the orchestra’s second tour of the U.S. The group performs at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Saturday night.

Guitar Orchestra of Barcelona

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 30 Second St., Troy

How Much: $42, $36, $29, $15 (ages 7-17)

More Info: 273-0038,

“So, to play in the Orquesta de Guitarras de Barcelona means, for a guitarist, the opportunity of being a musician of [an] orchestra. And that means to feel being a part of the group, and not only to produce an individual sound.”

The group’s first U.S. venture was in November of 2009, with performances on the West Coast. This month, the orchestra will concentrate on East Coast dates.

“We created a new program, with much affection, think that the American public received us so well in our first tour in November 2009, and hope to strengthen our relationship with the American public,” Vicente said.

European success

While still a relative newcomer to the U.S., the orchestra has already achieved success in Europe with its mix of contemporary, baroque and traditional Spanish music, all arranged for guitar by Vicente. In the past decade, the orchestra has been involved with numerous festivals, including the International Guitar Festivals of Havana (in 2000) and their native Barcelona (2001 and 2002).

Vicente formed the orchestra in 1989 with eight of his guitar students at the Conservatorio Superior de Música del Liceu in Barcelona. Since then, membership has grown to include anywhere from 20 to 30 instrumentalists and has seen more than 100 guitarists pass through its ranks — although two of the original eight still remain.

“The orchestra wants to be an opportunity for young, talented [guitarists], and many are interested to stay with us for four or five years,” Vicente said. “To be a guitarist and orchestra musician is a privilege of the Barcelona Guitar Orchestra.”

The orchestra’s repertoire is constantly expanding, and today consists of compositions from Spanish composers such as Manuel de Falla and Isaac Albéniz, along with other European composers, including Georges Bizet and Luigi Boccherini. The group also tackles contemporary classical compositions, with composers even writing for the group’s multiple guitar setup.

“Leo Brouwer recently directed the Guitar Barcelona Orchestra in Barcelona Auditorium with his music, composed specially for guitar ensemble; it was fantastic,” Vicente said. “We enjoy playing contemporary music, but it is true that most of the repertoires of the orchestra are my own arrangements from other music that I consider the GOB can perform with our special sound.”

Translating pieces that were often written on piano for more traditional orchestras involves “a lot of work,” according to Vicente.

Capturing the essence

“There are many hours of introspection for capturing the essence of the work, and many hours to make arrangements and working to get the best sound on the ensemble,” he said. “Sometimes it is necessary to separate and amplify all the effects, for example when we play a score originally written for piano. And when I transform a symphonic piece, I need to concentrate all timbre richness in guitar possibilities.”

The orchestra utilizes different variants on the guitar to achieve greater range, and Vicente will also include percussion in certain arrangements.

“A guitar doesn’t get more than four octaves, and with the total of our guitars we have almost six octaves,” he said. “In my arrangements are [at] least six different voices and . . . resources like percussions, pizzicato and others searching a wide range of colors.”

The current U.S. tour will focus on Spanish compositions, in particular the work of Falla and Albéniz. Many of the pieces will be new arrangements created specifically for the tour.

“We hope to know how to transmit to the public that the music of Falla and Albéniz we’ll play, despite being originally composed for symphony orchestra or piano, has a strong inspiration in the sound of the guitar and the popular folklore,” Vicente said. “[We’re] touched [that] our guitar orchestra is able to reveal all its colors.”

The orchestra has only released one CD, 2001’s self-titled effort, and a DVD of a 2004 live performance in Barcelona’s Palau de la Música Catalana. When the group returns to Spain, Vicente plans to enter the studio with the group again.

Audiences enthusiastic

But for now, he is looking forward to returning to the U.S., where reactions have been enthusiastic.

“The truth is that all our tours in Europe, Russia and South America, we have always [been] liked very much [by] the public,” he said.

“Every country has a different audience who express their emotions in a different way. The American public is very outgoing and it is very stimulating to play for an audience that enjoys so much.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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