Before a single note or an ensemble melody was played, the members of the Dublin Guitar Quartet had established a vision for the music they wanted to play.
Though conservatory trained, the four guitarists – Brian Bolger, Pat Brunnock, Michael O’Toole and Tomas O’Durcain – had little interest in a strictly classical repertoire. Instead they looked to the works of such established modern composers as Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Arvo Part.
“There was a consensus even before the first rehearsal,” said Bolger by phone from his Dublin home. “There was a particular curiosity we had. The question was, ‘What would the music of American composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass sound like on guitars?’ It hadn’t really been done. Also, ‘How would a guitar quartet that specializes in contemporary music fare?’ So we kind of saw a guitar shaped hole in the contemporary music scene.”
But that fascination led to a deeper challenge – adapting and arranging compositions that were never intended as guitar pieces. Works by Reich, Glass and Part, and other modern classical composers have been adapted for numerous instrumental settings, but never for four guitars.
“I suppose we’re kind of limited in a certain respect in that the music of people (contemporary composers Mark-Anthony) Turnage or (Alfred) Schnittke, music that is very idiomatic and has lots of special techniques, doesn’t really work. It doesn’t make the translation. The music of Philip Glass and Steve Reich and Arvo Part translates the same way that the music of Bach translates to the guitar. It’s really kind of melodic and harmonically oriented, so it works well that way.”
The lengths the Dublin Guitar Quartet travel in a finding a new voice for contemporary music can be found in its arrangement of Eastern European composer Gyorgy Ligeti’s Musica Ricerata, which will be featured in the group’s April 2 performance at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre in Danville. The piece was originally written for piano before being reworked for wind and even saxophone quartets. All of the incarnations figure into the version the Dublin Guitar Quartet will perform.
“Ligeti is mostly known for his soundtracks,” Bolger said. “His soundtrack music was used in 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, so people might recognize him from that. But Musica Ricerata is from earlier in his career so there is more explicit melodic content and more traditional things going on. It’s quite a jolly piece as well but still very modern. It kind of sticks out in the set a little bit, but it’s nice to have that variety.”
Did someone say variety? The Danville performance will also include music by Cuban composer/guitarist Leo Brouwer, former quartet member David Flynn (whose Chimurenga is a tribute to famed South African artist/activist Thomas Mapfumo) and the Irish rock troupe The Redneck Manifesto along with works by Part, Reich and Glass. The latter also figures highly in the Dublin Guitar Quartet’s recent recording activities. Its forthcoming album is devoted to guitar arrangements of Glass’ string quartets.
It all represents a marked progression from the music – what little of it there was – Bolger heard at home during his youth.
“Growing up, we only had two records in the house. One was the 1812 Overture – that really famous recording that explained how they made the cannons on the B side. The other was Cabaret. Those were the only two records in the house for a long time. Then I hit my teens and it was Metallica and thrash metal. I kind of found the guitar that way. I also liked a lot of post-rock music such as (Louisville’s) Slint and Tortoise, stuff like that.”
“It’s important for us today to find a common kind of message for any listener and not have an overemphasis on anything. When you overemphasize, you kind of sell yourself short. I like to mix things up and keep them changing so there is something there for everybody.”
Dublin Guitar Quartet performs at 7:30 p.m. April 2 at the Weisiger Theatre of the Norton Center for the Arts, 600 W. Walnut St. in Danville. Call (877) 448-7469, (859) 236-4692 or go to www.nortoncenter.com.