Live in Franklin:
LAGQ Concert at Franklin Theatre
The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet brought a warmth to Franklin Theatre on an April night of near freezing temperatures at show time. The intimacy in which the four guitarists blend their sound suited the small crowd. One patron informed me that LAGQ had been booked for dates nearly two years ago but was postponed until events could resume without pandemic restrictions. Now the quartet begins a three-show stint at Franklin Theatre before heading to Oak Ridge, TN.
We were a special crowd due to the fact that LAGQ released their album Opalescent that day and were happy to feature some of the works from the record. This would be their first live performance in quite some time in a year in which they celebrate 40 years as a quartet.
After opening with an excellent arrangement of “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2”, member Bill Kanengiser introduced the piece “Opals” by Phillip Houghton and explained how the music depicts “the glints and reflections of the gemstones.” Houghton was a synesthete meaning he saw specific colors when he heard musical tones. Kanengiser explained that in the score he writes certain colors that are represented above some notes.
“Chorale” by Frederic Hand was performed with the utmost attention to ensemble interplay with the purpose of turning four guitars into an acapella vocal ensemble. As all four musicians took cues from their scores on music stands, I could not help but think that they were putting more into the music than just reading from the page. There was very little physicality happening on stage but the sound had this wonderfully dense, warm harmonic movement that swept you along.
John Dearman introduced two movements from Road to the Sun (2021), a project composed by Jazz legend Pat Metheny for LAGQ. Metheny’s themes weave in and out of colorful harmonies and the four guitarists are constantly trading melody, strummed chords, and other parts of the music. This lengthy performance that pulled us into the musical world of a brilliant composer and defied genre took us into an intermission.
Returning from the break, Matt Grief spoke about a past project called Guitar Heroes (2004) that featured the group’s arrangements of some of their favorites. These tunes included an infectiously groovy “Peaches en Regalia” by Frank Zappa and an elegant medley of “Blue Ocean Echo” and “Country Gentleman” by Chet Atkins with a coda of “Wind Cries Mary” by Jimi Hendrix seamlessly added on. Matt Grief subtly slipped a glass slide on his left hand to add something special to the Chet Atkins songs and completely fooled us that he was still playing a classical guitar!
The audience cameras went up during the second movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” which Scott Tennant introduced as a special arrangement done by Bill Kanengiser after an invitation to the Beethoven Fest. It was captivating and especially effective for guitar, making good use of the bass notes on John Dearman’s 7-string guitar.
The finale was an explosion of notes from composer Manuel de Falla’s El Amor Brujo. The two movements “Canción del fuego fatuo” and “Danza ritual del fuego” satisfied the crave for Spanish guitar music and exhibited some of the polished musicianship that comes with 40 years experience performing as a group.
The LAGQ have been inducted into the Guitar Foundation of America’s hall of fame and received the honor from Pepe Romero of the famed quartet The Romeros in a special 2021 ceremony. In a conversation with Bill Kanengiser one week before this show, he told me they have enjoyed the journey and he addressed the future of the guitar ensemble by saying the guitar quartet is here to stay. We are thankful to have hosted them here in middle Tennessee and I believe LAGQ will continue to bring these high level performances to audiences across the country for many more years.