Josef Woodard reviews the SBCC Symphony December Concert

From the larger Santa Barbara Independent article ON the Beat | Xmas Music X-ing

Giving Serious Guitar Some Attention

Eliot Fisk with SBCC Symphony | Credit: Josef Woodard


Santa Barbara’s bounty and diversity of classical music offerings is rich enough — especially for a city our size — to make specialty complaints seem almost churlish. Even so, those of us in the tiny but devoted cult of classical guitar fans have been feeling a bit neglected in recent years. The city which has hosted the likes of Andre Segovia, Christopher Parkening, the Assad Brothers, Paul Galbraith (in the intimate setting of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art), the LA Guitar Quartet, and other classical guitar legends has become guitar-lean in recent years.

All of which is to report that it was a great pleasure to hear noted and progressive-minded classical guitarist Eliot Fisk appearing with the Santa Barbara City College Symphony on Sunday evening. The Fisk connection comes through Valerie Malvinni, a violist, teacher, and the Symphony’s interim conductor while James Mooy is on sabbatical. Malvinni’s husband and son are also classical guitarists.

A Segovia protégé, Fisk stands apart in the classical guitar realm as being invested in expanding the naturally slender ranks of classical guitar repertoire, including new guitar music by Italian modernist Luciano Berio, along with transcriptions of music by Paganini and many other non-guitar-based composers.

As an added attraction in Santa Barbara, Fisk was on hand to perform the actual U.S. premiere of Mexico City–born and Los Angeles–based composer Giovanni Piacentini’s new Guitar Concerto. Celebrating Latin American musical culture and civil rights issues, the score is an ear-pleasing joyride, easy on the ears but musically substantial, and a soloist workout handily by Fisk. Piacentini, also a guitarist, keenly understands the challenge of sculpting a guitar concerto as more of a dialogue than sonic thicket, balancing out the dynamic contrasts of the guitar and an orchestra. The concerto is a winsome thing, deserving of a spot in the guitar canon.

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