Jonathan Leshnoff: Guitar Concerto

Tonight’s (1/9/14) premiere of Jonathan Leshnoff’s concerto for guitar by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra marks the composer’s seventh commissioned concerto, and second commissioned work by the Baltimore Symphony. It should be no surprise, then, that Leshnoff is well-versed in his approach to the compositional demands of concerto-writing, with its incumbent formal and timbral balancing acts.

Composer Jonathan Leshnoff Photo by Katya Chilingiri

Composer Jonathan Leshnoff
Photo by Katya Chilingiri

The concerto features the world-renowned guitarist Manuel Barrueco, who deftly and expressively navigates the variety of textures summoned by Leshnoff. Conductor Marin Alsop, long-time champion of new (and, particularly, American) music, spoke after yesterday’s rehearsal regarding the instrument: “To me, the guitar is about inference and implication;” as an instrument that is timbrally introverted, and with a rapid decay, guitarists (to perhaps a greater degree than pianists) must create the illusion of a sustained melodic line. Though Barrueco is subtly miked, it is Leshnoff’s attention to textural and orchestrational detail that allows the guitar to sing. Passagework is balanced against lyricism, full-bodied chords against arppegiated accompaniment. Evocative textures undergird the guitar’s sonorities: subtle jeté bowings, muted trumpets, and tender countermelodies in the woodwinds create a supportive, but never overwhelming, sonic environment through which the guitar can shine.

Leshnoff utilizes the traditional three-movement, fast-slow-fast structure, to draw attention to the meditative middle movement, which is based upon tenets of Jewish mysticism. Speaking after the rehearsal, Leshnoff emphasized that he hoped that this music would serve to focus the minds of listeners on the moment at hand, leaving behind the headiness of the outside world, ultimately evoking “humility and hope” and “the essence of the guitar…it’s about pausing our busy lives.”

You can pause your busy life to take in Leshnoff’s lush and fulfilling music, joined by Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Dvorák’s Symphony no. 9, tonight and Sunday at the Meyerhoff, and Friday night at Strathmore. Tickets are available at <>.



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