Resuming its status as an annual event after several seasons as a biennial, the New York Guitar Festival returns in Spring 2017 with cross-cultural concert programming in celebration of works for guitar. This year the Festival expands its partnership with media sponsor WNYC, which will host a series of events, including the Opening Night concert by two-time Grammy-winning classical guitarist Sharon Isbin. 2017 also marks the second installation of NYGF Academy, offering a a full day of free workshops, master classes, and panel discussions on topics including instrument design and compositional trends. The New School will host all workshop activities in Kellen Auditorium at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center.
In addition to the iconic Isbin, the 2017 New York Guitar Festival welcomes slide guitar virtuoso Debashish Bhattacharya, making a rare visit to North America from his native India. Known as the inventor of Hindustani slide guitars, Bhattacharya bears the honorific title Pandit – meaning teacher, guru, or bard. It also befits one who attains a masterly level of performance, and in Bhattacharya’s achievement, the honor encompasses his successful adaptation of ragas from their original instrument, the sitar, to his own slide guitar work. Bhattacharya, who leads the non-profit School of Universal Music in Kolkata, will usher in the all-day Raga Marathon on May 19 at Brookfield Place Winter Garden beginning at eight o’clock that morning. The event lasts until midnight.
“One of the unique characteristics of Indian and South Asian music is the assignment of definite times of the day and night for performing Raga melodies,” explains New York Guitar Festival Co-Founder and Artistic Director David Spelman “It is believed that at certain hours in the spinning of the Earth, the Raga approaches the height of its melodic beauty and majestic splendor. There are some Ragas that are very attractive in the early hours of the mornings; others that enchant more toward dusk; and yet others reveal their fragrance only near the midnight hour. That’s how we’ve programmed this Marathon.”
Other performers at this year’s Festival include sitarist Krishna Bhatt (featured in a trio with Gyan Riley and percussionist Dan Weiss); sarodist Anupam Shobhakar; jazz guitarist Julian Lage playing duets with indie-rock guitarist Margaret Glaspy; a pair of up-and-coming young classical guitarists who study with Sharon Isbin – Alberta Khoury and Tengyue Zhang, with additional performers and events still to be announced.
Silent Cinema returns to the New York Guitar Festival for the first time since 2013. During the Raga Marathon, guitarist Rez Abbasi leads a quartet performing the world premiere of a new live score to the 1929 silent film, A Throw of Dice: A Romance of India, as it’s projected onto the Winter Garden West Wall. Says Abbasi: “The writing, direction, cinematography, and character development in A Throw of Dice is as timeless as the multi-layered Indian adventure story it’s based on.” The plot, a triangle between a young princess and two rival kings, stems from the Sanskrit epic Mahābhārata, a masterpiece of world literature held in the same esteem as the Greek tragedies or Shakespeare.
Abbasi continues: “As a music composer for the film, I could not ask for anything more. The tapestry of emotions and visuals within has sparked musical ideas I would not have usually come up with. It has also instigated the formation of a new ensemble in which all four players play multiple instruments. The compositions and orchestration for this 75-minute film come through the sound-fabric created by electric and acoustic guitars, sitar-guitar, tenor and soprano saxophones, bansuri flute, cello, acoustic bass, Indian percussion, and a drum set.”
“It is this elevation in inspiration that only a great work like A Throw of Dice can provide, and I am excited to share my new score for the screening via live performance,” Abbasi concludes.
More events will be announced in the months ahead on the New York Guitar Festival website: http://www.
Sharon Isbin & her Juilliard protégés
Presented by WNYC Radio
Thursday, May 18, 7 PM, WNYC Greene Space, 44 Charlton Street
Described as nothing less than a “high priestess” of her instrument and as a colorist on par with Monet, the classical guitarist Sharon Isbin has won two Grammy Awards, performed at The White House for the Obamas, and stars as the subject of the documentary Sharon Isbin: Troubadour. Her vast repertoire ranges from Ponce and Antonio Lauro to J.S. Bach and Vivaldi to Aaron Jay Kernis, Takemitsu, Gershwin, and Rodrigo. An advocate of new music for guitar, Isbin has premiered works by Tan Dun, John Corigliano, and Christopher Rouse, among other composers, written especially with her in mind. Isbin’s lyrical sound and prodigious versatility have created a niche all her own in the pantheon of guitarists.
Although Sharon Isbin has performed at the NYGF’s “sister” festival, the Ellnora, 2017 marks her first appearance at the New York Guitar Festival. She will open the concert with a 45-minute set unaccompanied, and then welcome three other guitarists on-stage for a series of solos and duos. Isbin remarks, “I’m proud to present three of my outstanding Juilliard protégés: current students Alberta Khoury from Australia and international prize-winner Tengyue Zhang from China, as well as Colin Davin, now faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Music, who received his M.M. from Juilliard and served as my fellowship teaching assistant at the Aspen Music Festival.”
Their music-making will be webcast live at wync.org.
Ragas: GUITAR MARATHON
Presented in collaboration with Arts Brookfield
Friday, May 19, 8 AM to Midnight
Brookfield Place Winter Garden, 230 Vesey Street
Hosted by WNYC’s John Schaefer. Curated by the New York Guitar Festival’s Artistic Director David Spelman.
Run of show:
8 AM – 9 AM
Morning Raga – Winter Garden Performance Circle
Performing: Debashish Bhattacharya
Noon – 1 PM
Noon Raga – Winter Garden Performance Circle
Performing: Anupam Shobhakar
5 PM – 6 PM
Early Evening Raga – Winter Garden Performance Circle
Gyan Riley, guitar
Krishna Bhatt, sitar
Dan Weiss, tabla
7 PM – 8 PM
Evening Raga – Winter Garden Performance Circle
Performing: Debashish Bhattacharya
8:30 PM – 10 PM
WORLD PREMIERE: A Throw of Dice Silent Film with Live Music – Winter Garden West Wall
Performing: Rez Abassi Quartet
10:30 PM – Midnight
DJ Rekha, with special multimedia guests. Guitarists featured earlier in the Marathon will sit in.
NEW YORK GUITAR FESTIVAL ACADEMY
A full day of free classes, workshops, and panel discussions
Saturday, May 20, 9 AM to 6 PM, The New School, Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Auditorium at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center. 66 Fifth Avenue
In its second year, this new tradition brings together students, instrument makers, composers, audiophiles, discerning aficionados, and master soloists in convivial symposiums devoted to different aspects of performing, recording, writing for, and building guitars. The Academy will be co-curated by David Spelman and Ed Keller, the director of The New School’s Center for Transformative Media. Among the programs this year, John Schaefer of WNYC will interview Festival artists Sharon Isbin and Debashish Bhattacharya.
Margaret Glaspy & Julian Lage
Presented by WNYC Radio
Thursday, May 25, 7 PM, WNYC Greene Space, 44 Charlton Street
The second of this year’s concerts presented in partnership with Festival media sponsor WNYC brings together a seemingly unlikely musical pair: Margaret Glaspy, an indie-rock singer-songwriter heavily influenced by Elliott Smith, and Julian Lage, a jazz guitarist steeped in the tradition of making vintage standards sound new. Yet Glaspy and Lage have the kind of rapport that transcends musical boundaries and notions of genre.
Her recent CD, Emotions and Math, received enthusiastic accolades for her perceptive lyrics and fuzzy guitar style; his newest recording, Arclight, features his trio of bassist Scott Colley and percussionist Kenny Wollesen. The versatile Lage often collaborates with Wilco’s Nels Cline and Chris Eldridge of The Punch Brothers.
Glaspy and Lage’s evening of duets will be webcast live at wync.org.