Normally the idea of going to a guitar concert would conjure up images of longhaired rockers and mosh pits, but a concert of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet is quite the opposite. Last Tuesday, the LAGQ gave an incredible performance in front of a sold-out crowd at Eastman’s Kilbourn Hall.

The first selection on the program was a group of three African pieces written by Andrew York, one of the members of the group. I was very surprised when they started playing, because African music and acoustic guitar seem like an odd combination to me.

Using the body of the guitars as percussive instruments, the group beat out what sounded very much like African tribal drumming and, one by one, they gradually worked in the melodic lines of the piece. Right away, I could tell that these four players had great versatility and mastery over their instruments.

Following the opener, the group proceeded into a somewhat lengthy tuning session ? they spent a great deal of time tuning after every piece. One of the members apologized to the audience for all the tuning, but then commented that “it is much more annoying if we don’t tune.”

Next on the program was a piece called “Pulcinella” by Igor Stravinsky.

This straight-up classical piece really let the group shine. The intensity and communication of the players was astonishing as they traded off melodic lines and harmonies. They showed what a subtle instrument the classical guitar can be.

The quartet ended the first half of the program with another piece by York, entitled “Quiccan.”

This was followed by a suite of pieces called “Celtic Fare” by Simon Jeffes and Scott Tennant.

Following intermission, the group came back on stage to perform another odd piece entitled “Gongan” by William Kanengiser, another member of the group.

Kanengiser commented to the audience that the inspiration for the piece came while the group was visiting Singapore. The quartet had been invited to see a concert by an Indonesian dance ensemble, accompanied by a traditional “Gamelan” orchestra.

Kanengiser was so amazed by the sonorities of the instruments and hypnotic character of the music that he decided to compose an original piece in that style.

The most incredible thing about the piece is not its inspiration, but the technique used to play it. The members of the group place various objects including metal clips, plastic discs and mutes under the strings of their guitars to produce the various sounds of the traditional gongs, percussion and mallet instruments of the Gamelan.

The group played the piece so beautifully that at the end, as the audience sat in awe, one gentleman in the front summed it all up by whispering “amazing.”

The group continued the concert with a short piece written by a Cuban composer, Eduardo Martin, called “Hasta Alicia Baila” followed by a toccata for guitar quartet written by Bryan Johanson in the style of a J. S. Bach keyboard toccata.

Finally, the quartet ended the concert with the crowd-pleasing suite from Bizet’s “Carmen.”

The suite was a fun ending to an incredible concert that brought the packed hall to its feet.

The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet is defiantly one of America’s premier instrumental ensembles and one of the most charismatic and versatile groups performing today.

Definitely take the opportunity to see LAGQ or purchase one of their many studio recordings if you get the chance ? you won’t regret it.

Carlisle can be reached at

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