On-Solo-Live-Album, Guitarist Annalisa Ewald Takes the Instrument Away From Plush Recital Halls and Back to Darkened Clubs

Friday, May 3, 2013

On her spirited solo album, ‘Live at the Factory Underground,’ Annalisa Ewald takes her classical guitar on a journey back to the instrument’s roots – leaving the plush, scholarly recital halls behind and instead returning to a darkened, candle-lit club, where artists perform amid the raucous din of the crowd, and a lone guitar provides the backdrop for any trouble that may be brewing…

Ewald, a respected guitarist equally at home among fans of classical, rock, blues and other genres, brings a confident intensity to the gritty, live performance, offering up 15 fiery classical guitar pieces from South America, the caves of the Spanish gypsies and European traditions. There’s a visceral quality to the recording, as she feeds off the energy of the loud crowd, allowing the music to come alive in response. The CD will be released April 23rd.

Ewald comments: “What I love about the music I selected for that night: the Argentine tangos, Spanish folk music, Brazilian choros, and even a couple of “cousins” from the Renaissance courts – is that this music is alive, slightly dirty and feeds on rowdy crowds.” “The evening was beautifully gritty, filled with laughter and the audience was loud. Perfect.”

More about the album — History/Liner Notes:

On October 22, 2012, a raucous group of friends and musicians gathered together for a very special night of intense celebration at The Factory Underground Studio in Norwalk, Connecticut. The large recording studio had been transformed into a nightclub for music lovers and became a festival for everyone who believed that life is good and good times are what living is all about. Three acts were scheduled to play that night and as the only soloist and “classical” player I had the task of opening the event, grabbing the audience by the collar and letting them know that this night was not going to be soon forgotten.

Candlelit café tables, ratty couches, multiple cocktail stations amidst jungle vines of recording wires overhead and underfoot created a setting most unlike Carnegie Hall. Which was all to the good. Intentionally, this recording places the classical guitar in surroundings less formal and more intimate than its modern setting of the concert hall and pristine recordings. The idea was to put the guitar back in its birthplace of hazy candlelit gathering places where old troubles are forgotten, passions ignited and new troubles born.

The guitar is an amazing instrument: its first appeared around 1500 in Spain, and was designed specifically to play chords. It could also play melody and harmony which gave it a flexibility other instruments did not have. In short from the very beginning it could and still does “sing” in a uniquely expressive and passionate voice.
The guitar was immediately embraced by the common people and was soon incorporated into their dance and song traditions throughout the old and new worlds. The uniqueness of its design opened a wonderful new musical door, one that allowed for the evolution of very sophisticated, multilayered interwoven threads of sound and complex chord structures. Unfortunately this also led eventually to an established canon of material, a cult of perfectionism and “competitions” – all of which took the guitar far from its original roots.
What I love about the music I selected for that night: the Argentine tangos, Spanish folk music, Brazilian choros, and even a couple of “cousins” from the Renaissance courts – is that this music is alive, slightly dirty and feeds on rowdy crowds.

To me guitar music has always been like a sonic visit to the most interesting person in the world. To stretch this metaphor, there are walls of books on fascinating subjects, cool things on shelves brought back from journeys all over the world, great things to eat and drink and a twinkle in the eye of your host, who is truly glad to see you. The guitar has always been that host to me, that amazing “person,” and I wanted to share its music with the crowd that exuberant evening in the nightclub studio.
The evening was beautifully gritty, filled with laughter and the audience was loud. Perfect.

Annalisa Ewald Biography:

Annalisa Ewald began playing classical guitar at age 10, followed by lessons at the guitar mecca of Sophocles Papas' Guitar Shop. When she was 13, Papas, a close friend and colleague of Andrés Segovia, took her on as his protégée.

Papas and his Guitar Shop was then the epicenter for classical guitar in the United States, so Annalisa was exposed to players like Andrés Segovia, Julian Bream, Ida Presti and others who made a point of stopping in when they were performing in the D.C. area to pay homage to Papas.

Annalisa graduated from high school early to enroll at St John’s College, Annapolis, a liberal arts college known for its innovative Great Books curriculum.  After completing two years of study, music took top priority and she enrolled at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and was soon seeking out the best teachers she could find outside the Conservatory as well. Her classical guitar skills began to develop further as she studied with the versatile Karl Herreshoff of the Paul Winter Consort and later ICM concert artist, Turan-Mirza Kamal. 

She followed her B.A. in classical guitar from Bard College with more than a decade of baroque performance practice with the New York Continuo Collective. And for 20 years, from her undergraduate days until his death in 2014, Annalisa studied with the internationally sought-after master teacher and lutenist, Patrick O'Brien, with whom she studied continuo accompaniment on baroque guitar, cittern and theorbo.

Annalisa's historical interests led her to cultivate a classical guitar repertoire of music that spans over 400 years. For her, giving an audience the cultural & musical context behind music is critical- from the knife-wielding Jacaras music of sixteenth century criminals, the lascivious beginnings of some of the baroque era music and South American guitar music whose composers risked imprisonment when performed.

This ability to express guitar music of all periods within its historical setting is why Annalisa is widely embraced and at home with fans of rock, blues, bluegrass and other mainstream genres. She bridges historical gaps and conveys the common roots of the music, allowing listeners to inhabit an aural landscape populated with their own imagery, thoughts, feelings and emotions. The listener becomes the co-author and the experience becomes more meaningful to them.

She has won rave reviews for her excellence as a player and her approach. Her first solo classical guitar album charted at No. 8 on Billboard's Traditional Classical chart.  She is a favorite at numerous festivals and has also been awarded multiple concert series grants by the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA.)

Recently she has formed Circe’s Consort an early music project which explores the seminal influence of the baroque guitar and continuo on all Western music and specifically opera.


TRACK-BY-TRACK NOTES, By Annalisa Ewald:

Soleares is called “the mother of flamenco” since so many other flamenco forms, or “palos,” derive from it. It is one of the most basic of flamenco song forms. As with all gypsy music, its origins are by nature hard to pin down, but it seems soleares evolved late in the 18th century in southwestern Spain around Andalusia.

The composer of this piece, Daniel Fortea (b.1878-d.1953) was born in Spain at a time when the traditions of flamenco were just taking root. He absorbed and passed along the true spirit of flamenco in his own 20th century compositions.

Farucca is a “palos” which probably came from the Galicia region of northwestern Spain. It is a “cante chico” or “light song,” which speaks of sunny subjects like love and bawdy humor. Scholars argue endlessly over whether it was the early Celts or the German tribes in this region of what was Gaul who, between raids on the Roman legions, left behind their musical imprint which later became the farruca.

Solea is another kind of soleares, and is the Spanish word for “sorrow.” This piece is a “cante jondo” or “deep song,” an intensely sad form dealing with dark, profound themes like despair, death and passion all elevated here in flamenco music to an art.

Monotonia (“one sound”) very much belongs in an informal setting like this cabaret. Its composer, Rodrigo Riera, (b.1923-d.1999) is among the guitarists of his generation whose compositions celebrated the popular guitar music of 20th century Latin America. Deeply influenced by African (Moorish) music and by dance music native to South American, their compositions met initially with disdain from the then-reigning king of classical guitar, who was reinventing the guitar as an elitist European instrument. Meanwhile Riera and friends were busy celebrating its roots, which I think is a great idea. Monotonia was composed in 1968 when Riera was living in Manhattan. In this wistful piece a short tuneful motif (the “one sound”) repeats with subtle harmonic changes on its journey through a sweetly forlorn landscape. ??performance of musical events of outstanding professional quality.

Por Una Cabeza is a tango, one of the most famous ever, written by Carlos Gardel (c.1890-d.1935), a French- born Argentine. Tango, a highly evolved blend of European and Latin music with dance, took shape circa 1920 in one of the roughest districts of Buenos Aires, the very neighborhood of Gardel’s own childhood. The song is a funny story about a man who compares his loss at a racetrack (by a nose!) to his romantic life. To paraphrase: “I know it’s a bad idea but by Monday I’ll be back betting on the horses again. What can I do?” Gardel’s voice and spirit are both glorious–and with my instrument, just a box with six strings, I have nonetheless tried to do them justice.

El Dia Que Me Quieras translated loosely as “On the day you finally love me” is another prime example of the skillful collaboration of Gardel with the poet and lyricist Alfredo La Pera (c.1900-d.1935). The superbly over- the-top lyrics in this tango contain the line, impossible to translate from the Buenos Aires slang of the 1930s, which goes something like:: ”…the day you finally love me, a psychotic firefly will nest in your hair, illuminating your passion for me…on that day…” I have Argentinian friends who swear it makes no sense to them either, though they agree the piece is incredibly romantic….with or without words.

With Mr. Dowland’s Midnight the evening’s program migrated to Renaissance Europe for contrast. I am joined here by Caroline Golino, a promising young guitarist who happens to be my student and was just 15 when she performed with me that evening. This duet was originally for solo lute, by John Dowland (b.1563- d.1626) whose skill as a lutenist was equalled only by his notorious depression. He makes fun of his own melancholy in the title of this piece, doubtless written while he was up late worrying one night. It is a haunting little lament, brightened momentarily by a ray of hope, only to subside into its original sadness. Even the early English loved the emotional blues.

Les Buffons, “The Clowns,” is a sunny little piece, a variation on a familiar dance theme of the times by W. Heckel (b.1515-died c.1562.) It cavorts its way pleasurably from start to finish while never once losing its balance and mellow mood. Like a clown it only strives to please. Caroline and I play as a duet team on this tune as well. A perfect pub piece.

Larghetto is an eloquent study in tremelo by another Argentinian, Julio Sagreras (b.1879-d.1942) who lived in Buenos Aires most of his life, most likely on the other side of the tracks from Gardel. As the child of two guitarists living in what I think of as the Paris of the guitar for the 20th century, he had a wonderfully rich exposure to Latin and European music and culture which influenced his playing, composition and teaching. The melody of this Larghetto was so tender I played it first as a plain melody over the bass line, then repeated the melody in tremelo, a technique unique to the guitar which gives the impression of being two guitars. It produces a mesmerizing shimmering effect.

This piece, Chorinho is by British composer John Pearse (b.1939-d.2008). Choro music has been called “the true incarnation of the Brazilian soul,” “classical music played with bare feet and callus on the hands,” and “the most sophisticated instrumental popular music in the world.” Like the complex “pop” dance tunes of the 17th century choro music begs the question of what is classical and what is pop. John Pearse has given us this beautiful bright piece, in true choro form complete with all its characteristic repeats and key changes in their proper sequences. It is a delight to hear and play.

Milonga with La Cumparsita is really two pieces. The milonga, which had African roots, originated in Uruguay and northern Argentina and already had African influences. Eventually it traveled to the southern cities where where it grew into the tango. The tango came into being in the melting pot of Buenos Aires as the African community blended with the huge number of European immigrants who flocked to Argentina around the turn of the century. The tango was a feral dance with music to match which only became more polished later. The amount of body contact was thought scandalous and was therefore immediately taken up by Parisian high society after a 1912 tango tour from Buenos Aires and quickly spread worldwide. La Cumparsita is in many ways the archetypical tango, was composed as a march in 1916 by an Uruguayan musician then converted to a tango and played incessantly for decades after. By the time of Gardel, it was already being used as a kind of mash, with La Cumparsita being played underneath a second tango, supporting it with wonderful raking chords swinging from tonic to dominant with a kind of ferocity which would later disqualify ballroom tango dancers who danced it the way it originally sounded. Here I’ve made bookends of a traditional anonymous milonga with La Cumparsita sandwiched in between.

Villa-Lobos Prelude No.2 in E Major by Heitor Villa-Lobos (b. 1887-d.1959) was taught to me when I was studying with Sophocles Papas, in my Washington, D.C.days. Papas was a true acolyte of Segovia, who was campaigning to Europeanize the guitar. Maestro Papas told me when putting the sheet music in front of me that “Bach is like steak. This is like…” and here he grimaced slightly, “…chicken.” This prélude is one of the pieces I played for my debut when I was 13 at Papas’ organization the Washington Guitar Society, in the District of Columbia, one of the first classical guitar societies in the States. The Prélude is a largely cheerful piece with an pleasing theme and a darker middle section of harplike chords (arpeggios– strings plucked one after another in a set pattern by the right hand while a chord shape is held down by the left) which gives way once more to the sunny theme at the end.

Spanish Romance aka “Romanze Anonimo” and “Romanze d’Amour” is probably the one classical guitar piece familiar to nearly everyone. It has been featured in film soundtracks, notably “Forbidden Games” and “Black Orpheus, and has been claimed as an original composition by innumerable guitarists for the last 100 years or so. It is really an anonymous Catalan folksong from the 19th century. In any event it is a beautiful timeless piece, very guitaristic, and I could not resist closing my program with it.
Bonus tracks

The composer of these two pieces is Antonio Lauro (b.1917-d.1986.) A fervent nationalist intent on preserving and furthering his country’s character and its music, Lauro was one of the first guitar composers to meld the European and Latin musical traditions together. Venezuelan Waltz No. 1 and No. 2, later re-named for his nieces,Tatiana and Adreina, were written between . , as his take on the fashionable European “parlor” waltzes. They are some of the most often played and loved compositions in the classical guitar’s repertoire. Lauro’s guitar music is considered to be “Calle Real” or “main street,” an expression used by musicians to refer to a straight and direct route without detours. That was exactly the road I was trying to take that night at the Factory Underground.

Vals Venezolano #1, “Tatiana,” is a breezy piece in a sunny major key which reminds me of some tropical bird at play. Honeyed harmonies backslide a fret in places for nice surprise dissonances, then a second melody breaks out and, like a bird, pirouettes gracefully and effortlessly to a satisfying landing.

Vals Venezolano #2,”Adreina” begins with an eloquent waltz, followed by a section of characteristically Latin off-the-beat rhythmic patterns, sprinkled lightly with harmonics (the chime-like ringing tones which can only be produced on the guitar). The waltz returns to end the piece with satisfying nostalgia.

A portion of the album sale will be donated to the John DeCamp Fund helping veterans heal through music and caring.



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