Grammy Award-winning classical guitarist Jason Vieaux calls American composer Jonathan Leshnoff’s Guitar Concerto “a stunner.” Vieaux’s new recording of the concerto with the Nashville Symphony is a stunner, too.
Vieaux's recording of Leshnoff's Guitar Concerto marks a definitive place in the history of the guitar concerto genre – the intersection of a major new work destined to become a classic, a gifted performer and a strikingly virtuosic recording not any time soon to be surpassed.
Listen to my interview with Vieaux to hear some selections from Leshnoff's Guitar Concerto. And find out what one of the finest guitarists of our time has to say about this new addition to the guitar repertoire:
Leshnoff composed the concerto on commission from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Nashville Symphony, the Region of Asturias Symphony Orchestra and the Reno Philharmonic.
Guitarist Manuel Barrueco premiered the concerto with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and had helped Leshnoff through the pitfalls of composing for the guitar – an instrument Leshnoff does not play and one he claims “is not the easiest instrument to write for.”
Nevertheless, Leshnoff's concerto occupies an undisputed place in the lineage of Rodrigo’s famed Concierto de Aranjuez, even as it stands squarely on its own originality.
The similarities are, indeed, striking – from the first movement's virtuosic flourishes, to the expansive mysticism of the second movement, to what the composer himself calls the “spicy” rhythms of the third movement. Leshnoff's Guitar Concerto embodies the same attractive angularity, the same unsentimental lyricism and the same textural sheen of the Aranjuez concerto.
But the differences between the two works are what place Leshnoff's Guitar Concerto on its own two feet – the profound exploration, in Leshnoff's second movement, of humility in the face of an unfathomably large universe, the skillful handling of Spanish-sounding rhythms and modal inflections in this concerto for the most Spanish of all instruments.
Here is Leshnoff and his thoughts about his Guitar Concerto:
And here is Vieaux in the run-up to recording the concerto that, he says, has made him a better guitarist: