New York-based classical guitarist Jason Vieaux might be making his professional debut in Columbia performing with the Escher String Quartet Saturday, Nov. 19. But the upcoming Candlelight Concerts appearance won't be the first time locals have seen him play.
That distinction goes back two years, to when Vieaux stopped into the area to play a series of impromptu sets of music to both senior citizens and cancer patients at Howard County General Hospital.
The award-winning musician's performances were as positively received as they were surprising to his audiences, says Holly Thomas, the vice president and artistic director of the Candlelight Concert Society, which is sponsoring the upcoming concert.
"He came to do an outreach for me," Thomas explains. "It wasn't for an official concert."
Thomas says the Vieaux visit came about because she did a favor for his agent by putting him up in a hotel for one night when he was in the area between concert stops. As a thank you, Vieaux returned with his guitar and serenaded the elderly and the ill.
"He was so kind and so generous," she enthuses.
The first part of that day found Vieaux playing for appreciative seniors at the Miller Branch of the Howard County Public Library. But his performances later in the day at Howard County General Hospital were so moving, says Thomas, "it brought tears to my eyes.
"What Jason did was not a sit down concert. We were up in the cancer ward where people were dying and Jason stood out in the hall, outside their doors, and played for them. People came out in tears — just one person at a time or one family at a time. He didn't need huge applause or anything else."
Vieaux made such a good impression on Thomas that she arranged for his return as a guest artist in the Candlelight season. Vieaux holds an array of impressive credentials, including being the youngest First Prize winner in the history of the GFA International Guitar Competition. He was also a Naumburg Foundation prize winner, and a recipient of the Cleveland Institute of Music's Alumni Achievement Award.
The musician heads up the guitar department at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and, and is the co-founder of the Curtis Institute guitar department. Vieaux has recorded 10 CDs, seven of which are solo works.
Come Saturday, he will be in collaborative mode, in a program that will blend Latin guitar pieces with traditional classical chamber music provided by the Escher String Quartet. The Escher String Quartet regularly performs at New York's prestigious Lincoln Center and holds a residency for the Music in the Park series in St. Paul, Minn.
"It's a program we worked on together," Thomas explains. "A collaborative concert is very unusual. It's one of the most exciting kinds of collaborations."
The evening will begin in chamber mode with the Escher playing Felix Mendelssohn's "String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 12." Then Vieaux takes the spotlight with a rendition of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Lute Suite No. 1 in E minor, BWV 996."
The pair come together for Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto in D Major, RV 93 for guitar, violin, viola and cello, after which the guitarist flies solo again for a piece by early-20th century composer Isaac Albéniz titled "Asturias (Leyenda)."
One of the quartet's violinists, Adam Barnett-Hart, then pairs off with Vieaux for Astor Pantaleón Piazzolla's Latin-tinged "From L'Histoire du Tango." The concert closes with all the players chiming in on a rare composition for strings both plucked and bowed — Luigi Boccherini's Quintet for Guitar and Strings No. 4 in D Major, G. 448, the "Fandango."
Although the guitar is not closely associated with classical music, Thomas says she believes it's important to spotlight some non-standard instruments in Candlelight's seasons.
Bringing a guitar into the mix also helps expose audiences to a whole new world of literature, she says.
"The Spanish repertoire and the South American repertoire offer such lovely rhythms and dance-like sections. They're often incredibly difficult and complicated, and yet so enjoyable to listen to."
The guitar, Thomas notes, is also a descendant of a stringed instrument identified with the medieval era, the lute, which Vieaux will also play at Saturday's concert. Plus, she says, the guitar is "a delightful instrument that can go anywhere, from Bach to rock."
Jason Vieaux and the Escher String Quartet will perform for the Candlelight Concert Society Saturday, Nov. 19, 8 p.m., in the Smith Theatre at Howard Community College. A pre-concert discussion with Martha Woods will be held at 7:15 p.m.
Admission is $30 general, $28 for those 60 and older and $12 for students. Students aged 17 and younger will be admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Call 410-997-2324 or go to http://www.candlelightconcerts.org.
Candlelight for kids
Come Sunday, Nov. 20, the Candlelight Concert Society will also offer a family program in the Smith Theatre designed for a younger audience. The organization will host the National Marionette Theatre, a Vermont-based troupe that will perform a rendition of "Sleeping Beauty" as part of Candlelight's youth-oriented Candlekids series.
The fairy tale will be told from point of view of the prince character, and will utilize the classic Tchaikovsky ballet score.
Performances will be at 2:30 and 4 p.m. Admission is $10 per person. Call 410-997-2324 or go to http://www.nmtshow.com.