Wilmington Classical Guitar Society Strikes a Magnificent Chord Once Again

Lisa Perry & Jeremy Lyons

The Wilmington Classical Guitar Society welcomed back the duo of guitarist Jeremy Lyons and soprano Lisa Perry and introduced rising-star guitarist Evan Conrad Saturday night at the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant.


Programming a concert is no mean feat and Lyons et al are clearly experts at it. The concert featured a rich tapestry of guitar music that spanned more than three centuries.


Conrad opened the program. At just 17 years old, the Leigh Valley Charter High School student is building an impressive performance resume. Last year he placed second in the high school division of the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society’s annual competition and he will be auditioning to perform at Zimmerman’s Coffee House at Moravian College of Music. He has been playing guitar for five years and classical guitar for three. He plans to study classical guitar in college.


Conrad walked on stage with eyes cast downward and sat down to play. His program featured works by Francisco Tarrega (1852 – 1909), one of the fathers of classical guitar, Jorge Morel (1931 – present) and Antonio Lauro (1917 – 1986). It would be been helpful had he given some introduction to why he made the choices he made and how they fit together, but his masterful rendering of the works more than made up for that omission.


Conrad opened his set with Tarrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra, delivering this fiendishly difficult piece with verve and dazzling eloquence that left the audience wanting more. The Moorish Capricho Arabe was presented with a sensual seductiveness while a delicate touch respected the fragility of Lagrima. Conrad rounded out his set with the much-loved Venezuelan Waltz, No. 3 (Lauro) and the lesser-known but equally appealing Sonatina (Morel).


Lyons and Perry then took the stage. A native of West Chester, PA, Lyons began guitar studies with his father, Glenn Lyons, founder of the classical guitar program at West Chester University. In addition to guitar, he is an accomplished cellist and gambist, and performs with a host of early music ensembles. He holds a variety of music degrees, including master’s degrees in guitar performance and musicology as well as a doctor of musical arts, all from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University.


Soprano Perry earned her bachelor’s degree in music composition and theory from Michigan State University in 2008 and her master’s degree in vocal performance from Peabody three years later. She is now working towards her doctor of musical arts at Peabody under the direction of Phyllis Bryn-Julson.


Two of the most demanding—and inventive—works in their program were Lewis Krauthamer’s Four Virginian Ballads on Themes of Human Weakness and Recitation No. 11 by Georges Aperghis (b. 1945). Krauthamer (b. 1982) is a Maryland-based composer who works in a microtonal 6th tone scale. That arrangement allows for 36 tones to the octave, three times more than the conventional system, giving the composer a broader array of “colors” to work with.


The work deals with themes of human weakness, the first of the two performed here speaks to jealousy and murder (“The Two Sisters”) and the second treachery (“Pretty Polly and the Elf Knight”). The accompanying poetry is by a French poet known only as Combor. Perry gave a compelling reading, using her trained voice to delineate the characters with precision and impeccable French.


The second was George Aperghis’ mind-boggling—and outrageously demanding—Recitation (No. 11). This epic—and rarely performed—solo work for female voice consists of smatterings of French words but mostly it is a concoction of syllables and phonemes spiked with maniacal laughter that resemble the ravings of someone gone mad. Just listening to it gives an idea just how difficult it is to perform. But a glance at the score—which Perry held up to the audience—revealed an overload of notation to an INsanely fastidious degree. Perry’s interpretation was riveting—and, quite frankly a bit scary.


The remainder of their program was—thankfully—much more tame. The opening set featured works by German, Italian, Croatian and Spanish composers of the Romantic era. Most interesting in this set was Schubert’s Dithyrambe. This hymn to the gods draws on original performance practices of the composer who was known to play guitar and frequently accompanied his songs. Perry worked out the guitar/voice arrangement for Brahms’ beloved Vergebliches Standchen, a dialogue between an unsophisticated young man and his clever intended. The poignant “Mein Traum” showed off Croatian guitar virtuoso Ivan Padovec (1800 – 1873) facility for vocal writing. Lyons rounded out the set with solo performances of the melodic Etude Op. 6 no. 6 by Fernando Sor (1778 – 1839) and La Rose by the Italian Mauro Giuliani (1781 -1829), a blending of the Spanish guitar tradition with the emerging bel canto style.


Latin Americans were represented in a set that included Hector Villa Lobos (1887 – 1959), Laurent Benmussa and Agustin Barrios (1885 – 1944). Lyons approached Villa Lobos’ Chorinho with a disarming freshness while easily executing the demanding technique of Barrios’ lamenting Choro de Saudade.


The program also featured a set of three Spanish dances. Lyons joined with Perry on Malaguena and El Vito by the self-taught German-born guitar virtuoso Siegfried Behrend (1933 – 1990). Lyons met the technical challenges of Fandango, from Tres Piezas Espanolas by Joaquin Rodrigo (1901 – 1999).


The evening wrapped up on an operatic note with selections from Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Lyons offered a guitar transcription of the tenor aria Ecco ridente in cielo while Perry’s silvery soprano projected a nice blend of innocence and cunning in Una voce poco fa.


Editor’s Note: The Wilmington Classical Guitar Society concerts make for a truly glorious night out IN Wilmington. Check out their upcoming concert schedule which INcludes Tengyue Zhang in April, 2017 Winner of the GFA INternational Concert Artist Competition. They also host Master Classes, if you’re a player yourself, and even work to keep our community updated on regional classical guitar offerings through their extended calendar.