New York Guitar Festival to honor Julian Bream this July

The 2021 New York Guitar Festival (NYGF) will pay tribute to the iconic classical guitarist Julian Bream with an online series of concerts beginning July 14 and continuing until July 20. This year’s series “Remembering Julian Bream,” will include commissions by a group of stellar classical guitarists, lutenists and composers in honor of the late Grammy Award-winning concert artist.

Julian Bream was a trained pianist and cellist but found his love of music in the guitar. Bream died at his home in Wiltshire, England on August 14, 2020, at the age of 87. As John Schaefer wrote “He might have been the original Guitar God; he certainly was a trailblazer, a seeker, and a rebel.” He championed many contemporary composers while also discovering music like the Elizabeth composer John Dowland which led him to buy a lute.

Six composers will perform their own works dedicated to Bream: Laura Snowden from the UK, Jiji from Korea, Leo Brouwer from Cuba, Jozef van Wissem from Holland, Derek Gripper from South Africa, and Gyan Riley from the USA. In addition to these world premieres, “Remembering Julian Bream” will include performances of the classical guitar music that Bream became known for, dating from the 16th through the 20th century. Composers will include John Dowland, Anthony Holborne, Benjamin Britten, Francisco Tarrega, Mauro Giulliani, Enrique Granados, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and more.

In his New York Times obituary, Allan Kozinn wrote that Bream “pushed the guitar beyond its Spanish roots and expanded its range by commissioning dozens of works from major composers, and who also played a crucial role in reviving the lute as a modern concert instrument.” 

WNYC’s John Schaefer explained, “I can understand why so many people think the classical guitar really begins with Andres Segovia.  But it didn’t end there – otherwise we’d all just be playing Spanish music and Bach. Bream put the guitar on a wider, global, musical map, and the explosion of interest in and compositions for the guitar really starts with him.  Also I hurt myself trying to learn how to play Aguado’s “Adagio” from one of Bream’s publications.”

“Listening to, and sharing, music has been a lifeline for so many people during this year of social isolation.” New York Guitar Festival’s Artistic Director David Spelman spoke of the project, “We hope this project will spread the joy of music, and shine a light on the remarkable contributions of Julian Bream, whose life stands as a testament to a life totally dedicated to music.”

Performer Bios for “Remembering Julian Bream

Gyan Riley is a virtuoso guitarist and composer who plays classical, steel-string, and electric guitars. His repertoire includes his own music and that of his father, the influential composer Terry Riley.  He has most recently written music for the PBS documentary series Hemingway.

Laura Snowden was a student of Julian Bream, and was entrusted with the premieres of several pieces that Bream commissioned.  The London-based guitarist is also a member of the folk band Tir Eolas. Her compositions include choral music as well as works for guitar. 

Jozef Van Wissem is a lute player who does not play traditional lute music.  Performing on a remarkable swan-necked instrument, he performs his own works and has collaborated regularly with filmmaker and electric guitarist Jim Jarmusch.  

Jiji was born in South Korea but now lives in the States, where she has become an ardent champion of contemporary music for guitar. A composer herself, she has long been interested in electronic music, and has premiered works for electric as well as classical guitar. 

Derek Gripper is a South African musician and composer who has, somewhat improbably, brought the music of the West African lute-harp, or kora, into the classical guitar world.  His extensive repertoire ranges from works by Bach to collaborations with South African steel-string player Guy Buttery. 

Pepe Romero was not born with a guitar in his hands – it just seems like it.  Son of the great Celedonio Romero, he has had a long solo career in addition to performing with his father and two brothers as Los Romeros. He has played for popes, princes, and presidents.  And he’s a NYGF regular.

Sharon Isbin was Musical America’s 2020 Instrumentalist of the Year, the first time that award has ever gone to a guitarist.  The multiple Grammy winner is one of the most popular classical guitarists in the world, and has recorded with everyone from film composer Howard Shore to Indian classical master Amjad Ali Khan.

Isbin said “I will always be grateful to the legendary Julian Bream for his impassioned, heartfelt performances and recordings; his dedication to expanding the literature by commissioning outstanding contemporary composers; and for the generous private lesson he gave me at age fourteen which changed my life!”

Grammy winner Jason Vieaux takes a wide-angled view of what the word “classical” can mean.  For him, it includes Bach, as well as Pat Metheny and South American tangos. A popular teacher at the Curtis and Cleveland institutes of music, he is also the founder of The Jason Vieaux School of Classical Guitar. 

Vieaux commented that: “Bream was the ideal classical musician and artist for me, regardless of instrument. He was a primary role model for me and for so many in our field.  Bream not only was sophisticated, refined, hip and earthy, all at once… he was pointing the way toward a possible future. The number and scope of his contributions are staggering.”   

William Kanengiser has had two parallel careers: one as an award-winning solo guitarist, and another as a founding member of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet.  In both cases he has extended the classical repertoire by championing new works and arranging old ones.  He does a spot-on Julian Bream imitation. 

The Amadeus Guitar Duo, based in Germany, consists of Canada’s Dale Kavanagh and her German partner Thomas Kirchhoff.  They have almost single-handedly (double-handedly?) created a new body of works for classical guitar duo, and for guitar duo and orchestra, with more than thirty composers writing for them. 

Eliot Fisk was the last direct pupil of Andres Segovia, and the founder of the guitar department at the Yale School of Music.  This means his long, prolific career is a bridge between the guitar’s most iconic figure and the generations of gifted musicians coming from that program today.  His collaborators have included Bill Frisell and Paco Pena, among many others.

Tengyue Zhang has won many of the classical guitar world’s most important competitions.  The Chinese-born musician has studied with Sharon Isbin, and now with William Kanengiser.  He is a stunning virtuoso and a reasonable man: you can just call him TY. 

Paul O’Dette was an electric guitarist in a high school rock band when he heard Julian Bream playing the lute.  He went on to become one of the prime movers in the first flowering of the Early Music scene in America, and is one of the leading researchers and performers of Renaissance and early Baroque music.

Benjamin Verdery is the Kevin Bacon of the guitar world – everyone seems to know him.  In 1985, he became chair of the guitar department that Eliot Fisk founded at Yale, turning it into a formidable source of great musicians, from Jiji to rock guitarist/composer Bryce Dessner.  His repertoire goes from Bach to Hendrix to his own works.

Hopkinson Smith is an American-born, Swiss-based lutenist and teacher.  In the 1970s he helped Jordi Savall in putting together the essential early music group Hesperion XX (now Hesperion XXI).  He also plays early guitar-like instruments including the vihuela and theorbo. 

Smith commented that “Bream was an extraordinary communicator with a seemingly unstoppable energy. His voracious technique well served his deep lyric sense and his eyes understood all that was going on around him.  He was a truly charismatic figure with an adventurous spirit and an inquisitive mind.”  Lutenist and composer Jozef van Wissem adds that Bream: “single-handedly put the lute back on the map.”

Marija Temo plays, and teaches, both classical and flamenco guitar.  She is also a flamenco singer and a retired flamenco dancer; her own music owes much to that style.  But she’s appeared in some unusual places – a major festival of Dominican bachata music, for example, or onstage with the Zac Brown Band.    

Alberta Khoury is an Australian guitarist who has studied with Sharon Isbin at Juilliard, with whom she made her NY Guitar Festival debut in 2017.  She is a composer, often working with actors and dancers; and while she is mostly a soloist, she has done duo performances with TY (Tengyue Zhang).

Adam Del Monte has written two concertos for flamenco guitar and orchestra, and he recorded the featured flamenco guitar part in Osvaldo Golijov’s opera Ainadamar. His music fuses classical and flamenco, and he teaches both styles at USC. 

David Leisner is the guitarist who almost wasn’t.  A promising career was derailed by focal dystonia in the 1980s, but Leisner discovered ways to regain the use of his hand.  He now teaches both guitar and muscle training for musicians.  A composer and virtuoso player, he is co-chair of the guitar department at Manhattan School of Music.

The Newman & Oltman Guitar Duo has a long track record of innovative programming, both as an ensemble and as founders of the Raritan River Music Festival in New Jersey.  They have commissioned dozens of works for two guitars and have collaborated with a number of string quartets, including ETHEL and the Turtle Island Quartet.

Pablo Sainz Villegas has played guitar concertos with most of the world’s leading orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic.  As a soloist, he has performed for the Spanish royal family and recorded a duo album with Placido Domingo

“Remembering Julian Bream” Program Schedule

Daily at the New York Guitar Festival YouTube channel.

Wed, July 14:  Sharon Isbin at 3pm EDT, Pepe Romero at 4pm EDT, Pablo Sáinz Villegas at 5pm EDT

Thurs, July 15:  Jason Vieaux at 3pm EDT, David Leisner at 4pm EDT, William Kanengiser at 5pm EDT

Fri, July 16: Derek Gripper at 3pm EDT, Amadeus Guitar Duo at 4pm EDT, Paul Odette  at 5pm EDT

Sat, July 17:  Eliot Fisk at 3pm EDT, Hopkinson Smith at 4pm EDT, Marija Temo at 5pm EDT

Sun, July 18: Jozef van Wissem at 3pm EDT, Alberta Khoury at 4pm EDT, Tengue Zhang at 5pm EDT

Mon, July 19:  Benjamin Verdery at 3pm EDT, Jiji at 4pm EDT, Gyan Riley at 5pm EDT

Tues, July 20: Adam Del Monte at 3pm EDT, Newman & Oltman Guitar Duo at 4pm EDT, Laura Snowden at 5pm EDT

“Remembering Julian Bream” will premier three video performances each day, from July 14 – July 20 at 3pm, 4pm, and 5pm EDT via the New York Guitar Festival YouTube channel.

WNYC Radio’s “New Sounds,” in partnership with the New York Guitar Festival, will debut audio recordings of the newly commissioned works at 93.9FM or at the New Sounds website.

Access to “Remembering Julian Bream” is free. The NYGF and performing artists are asking viewers to make donations to MusiCares. Learn more about charitable foundation of The Recording Academy’s MusicCares COVID-19 Relief Fund, and donate to help the music community affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, here.

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