Tantalus Concert sponsored by RGC and Nazareth College in Wilmot Hall, June 14, 2009

We arrived early at Wilmot Hall to set up for picture and note taking. No one was in the hall but the Tantalus quartet, and we introduced ourselves as they prepared to rehearse. This is a very congenial group of young men and also very talented as we soon learned. Eavesdropping on their rehearsal we had a nice foretaste of what was to come and a good feel for the room. It seemed ideal for a guitar quartet with lots of resonance without amplification. Of course, the room is more alive without an audience present.

The audience turned out to be enthusiastic, but modest in size. Professor Petar Kodzas, ECMS (Eastman Community Music School) introduced the group and let us know that they would not be following the printed program. They played three rather complex pieces, two of which were from the original program. The performance part of the evening lasted about forty-five minutes.


Tantalus at Wilmot Hall

The first piece Oyun by Carlo Domeniconi, (b. 1947) Italian guitarist and composer, consisted of three movements entitled “Molto energico” “Lento” and “Con fuoco.” These titles very aptly describe the music itself. The opening and closing movements were dramatic and percussive as their titles suggest while the “Lento” section, book ended by this drama, was more introspective with engaging interplay of parts and judicious use of harmonics. It soon became apparent that this was a very tightly knit group with good control of dynamics and a variety of techniques in their toolbox.

Their second selection entitled “Above the Green Night” by Edie Hill. (b. 1962) was commissioned by the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet and performed by Tantalus in Spartanburg, South Carolina in March of this year. This evocative new work is based on two poems of F. Garcia Llorca, (1898-1936) a popular Spanish poet and dramatist, “Blind Archers” and “Hour of the Stars.” This fascinating piece alternated between drama and introspection with frequent passage of ideas from one player to another gradually engaging all the performers.

The third and final number was “Feast for Tantalus” an opus written for the quartet by Apostolos Paraskevas. (b. 1964) This is a very modern piece full of drama with abundant dissonance and abrupt chords, not to mention a tambourine played by foot! After a round of well deserved applause, we were treated to “Sabre Dance” by Khachaturian (1903-1978) as an encore. As the piece and the concert ended, the sonorities of the four guitars pleasantly continued to reverberate throughout the room.


Tantalus with Prof. Kodzas

After the performance, Tantalus returned to the stage to discuss the many aspects of putting together a quartet performance. Petar Kodzas initiated the discussion with some discerning questions, and the audience soon joined in the conversation. One of the questions concerned the use of particular instruments for various effects. Steve has an eight-string guitar with two additional lower bass strings, but did not use this instrument in today’s performance. Chris tends to play the higher parts having a cutaway where the neck joins the body. The group uses the instrument itself for colorful effects, e.g., varying the right hand position on the neck or body, Bartok pizzicati, and much more.
It is a challenge to find suitable pieces for four guitars. The second piece “Above the Green Night” was discovered by the group about six months earlier, but at that time they did not realize that it was based on poems by the Spanish poet, Llorca. Furthermore, Edie Hill, the composer is not a guitarist and the work needed to be adapted to the guitar.

In contrast “Feast for Tantalus” was written specifically for them and they were able to collaborate with the composer, Apostolos Paraskevas. The work is based on an ancient gruesome legend and contains many theatrical effects. Even though the piece sounds very free and improvised, the author was very particular with each aspect of interpretation.

The group is always seated in the same way, i.e., Matthew Cochran, Stephen Mattingly, Kristian Anderson and Kevin Manderville, (from left to right from the audience’s view) but they do not always play the same parts. This arrangement makes it easier for the audience to identify the person playing at any given moment.

They advised us to learn our parts before ensemble practice and to practice slowly individually and as an ensemble, listening carefully to what the others players are doing. Sometimes, another player does something unexpected and it’s essential to know how the parts fit together. The metronome is also very useful, but should be used as a tool, not as a crutch. Self recordings are also helpful in evaluating a rehearsal.

Matt is involved in the current GFA Convention taking place in Ithaca and encouraged all of us to attend. This foursome met while studying at Florida State. As they began to play together they soon discovered that they fit together not only musically, but also personally and are still close friends.

The final phase of today’s event was a master class by the quartet for two young players, Daniel Nitsch who played “La folia variations” by Giuliani (1781-1829) and David Steinhard playing “Danza del altiplano” by Leo Brouwer. (b. 1939) Both of these young men exhibited talent and dedication. David will be competing in the GFA Competition in Ithaca later in the week. The critique was friendly and helpful going far beyond the mechanics of how to play the guitar venturing into the realm of musical interpretation. Separation of voices and clearly articulated variations were among the topics discussed producing immediate results by the players.

We left the auditorium feeling satisfied that we had experienced many facets of guitar playing at its finest.

—Richard Taglieri

Photos: Mary Taglieri

Tantalus site

Feast for Tantalus on Youtube

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