John Williams, Guitar October 20, 2010
By Glen Creason
In a flawless and unforgettable ninety minutes, the great guitarist John Williams took the Performing Arts Center on a journey to some unexplored musical lands along with the occasional familiar gemlike compositions in a concert as close to perfect as you might find. The rather rare opportunity to hear classical guitar is a joy, especially at the acoustically generous Cerritos hall which Williams seemed to embrace like it was his own home. After so many popular performers it is remarkable to see an artist do so much with just his two hands, an acoustic instrument and of course a marvelous musical mind. Elegantly underdressed and supremely confident he mixed a few cogent remarks with incredibly expressive playing that captivated the astute audience. In truth, I feel almost unworthy to describe the performance since the technical aspects of his fingering are beyond my grasp but that seems precisely what he stands for in his shows since he expressed disdain for over-analysis of the works he plays. There is nothing between his hands and the instrument and a lovely current passes from man to guitar in every expression available to the instrument.
The program on this night was drawn almost purely from Latin America and so much of the material is not heard often enough but Williams’ playing made the composers shine. The first half featured the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos and his Five Preludes which despite the five starts and no stops offered the most familiar of all the pieces played. “No. 1 in e minor” was superbly lyrical and energetic, followed by the more wistful and even somber numbers 3 and 4. The final finger of the five was an exceedingly challenging “No. 5 in D major” that Williams turned into a dazzling tour de force. The dramatic “El Cameron Negro” by Cuban Leo Brower was absolutely enchanting with deep rich shades like a journey into the unknown, finished by the sweet “balada de la doncella enamorada” that lingered like fine chocolate on the palate.
The second half had more wonders, begun by the amazing “O Bia,” an African tune written by Francis Bebey at mid-century in a style called makossa dance rhythm which actually caused feet to tap in time across the hall. A stunningly beautiful tribute to Bebey called “Hello Francis” was preceded by Williams’ own composition “From a Bird” that was inspired by the song of a feathered friend in his native Australia. Like contented birds the crowd was eating out of Williams hand and his playing of the Paraguayan master Agustin Barrios-Mangore ranged from the Baroque-majestic “La Catedral” to some lovely waltzes including “Vals No. 4” that required every bit of the John Williams mastery of the guitar. His encore, the delicate and utterly delicious “Como Llora Un Estrella” by Venezuelan Antonio Carillo only served to drive the adoring crowd into a well-deserved standing ovation that expressed their fervent hope that Cerritos might coax the guitar maestro back again.