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Shangri La Series

Aloha Friends,

I hope this finds you in great spirits and health!

I am writing to inform you that soon I will be posting a series of videos of three pieces that are dear to me. Two of the three are compositions by legendary Spanish composers and the other by a legendary South American Guitarist-Composer. With that much information I will let them be surprises as we progress through the series.

How this came about was to some degree haphazard and organic. In June of this year I had the urge to record these pieces. I asked my great friend John Kiehl if I could come down to his studio and record. He, in his endless generosity, complied and we had a wonderful time recording.

I then thought that perhaps I should make guitar-video “art pieces” in which the guitar would be featured but in some exquisite location.

That led to me asking the great folks at Honolulu’s Shangri La if I could do a video shoot there.  The Shangri La was the home of the great Philanthropist Doris Duke who was a passionate collector of Islamic Art. It is unlike any pace I have ever been and is a renowned museum. Much to my surprise and utter delight the  wonderful people at the Shangri LA said yes!

At this point, I just needed a videographer. “Wait a minute…” I says to meself. My daughter just graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a BFA, maybe she will be up to the task of working with her father? Yikes, not easy for anyone!!! She said yes and the journey began. We had a blast doing the shoot at such an extraordinary location. Anyone who has visited the Shangri La after a few minutes starts to wonder “hmm…how can I live here?” It is that magical.

I want to make it clear that these are Mitsuko’s creations visually with some executive help from her older brother John. My brother Don will be posting on the various platforms with some much appreciated outside assistance.

We have now arrived at the final stage of the journey. Accompanying each video will be a short article about each of the pieces you will find on my web site under Ben’s Deep Thoughts.

In closing, I want to say what an honor it was to record these pieces and to shoot them at the Shangri La. I’m extending a huge mahalo to all who helped them come to fruition, and you know who you are.

Aloha,
Ben

 

SPECIAL GIVEAWAY

Amazing Grace is an iconic melody to say the least. I have heard so many wonderful musicians sing and play this powerful tune through the years. The one that will always amaze me is Aretha Franklin’s version on her extraordinary recording Amazing Grace. In addition, I was very moved by the Bill Moyer’s documentary Amazing Grace. To launch this web site, I am giving away my arrangement. I would like to thank Joseph Shields for generously copying the arrangement.

Ben's Arrangement of Amazing Grace (PDF)

Shangri La Series - Cordoba

Before performing it two years ago I studied the piano score and changed a few things. Prior to recording it in June 2014, I was inspired by Julian Bream’s arrangement and employed some of his ideas.

In the 1100s, Cordoba was a cultural capitol of the world. It was a city where at one time Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in peace. Great philosophers like Maimonides and Avverroes lived there. The society of the time advanced science, medicine and astronomy.

The work commences with a still, reflective, almost Renaissance-like introduction. The passage culminates with a cadence in the dominant and a fermata after which point the familiar and hypnotizing descending two-bar figuring begins, leading us into a melody only a master could write. The key change from minor to major back to minor is a compositional technique employed often by Albéniz. Because he does this so convincingly and musically I never tire of it. One could say the summit of the work is its double forte passage in the D major section of the work.  It is often played with the rasqueado technique — a tip of the hat to the world of Flamenco music so vital in Cordoba. I love how Albéniz restates the famous tow bar “intro” before the main melody after the last fermata at the end of the piece.

The original piano score contains several ritardandi, ralentandi, and dynamics. I believe they are essential for the interpreter to observe. Even with these numerous indications the piece allows the performer a tremendous amount of elasticity.

Cordoba exploits the guitar to its extreme. There are wonderfully varied textures, tessitura and timbral qualities throughout. The guitarist is asked to make triple pianissimos as well as double fortes. Its octave passages, particularly in the D major section, are among most expressive and emotional we have in the repertoire.

It is a piece that one can find new truths throughout different periods of one’s career. In short, it is an honor to play. It was also an honor to be a small part of such a unique guitar festival in one of the most astounding cities the world has known. I shall always be indebted to Paco for inviting me year after year.

Below is Albéniz’s statement about Cordoba from the opening page of his piano score.

In the silence of the night,
interrupted by the whispering
aromatic breeze of jasmines, the
Guzulas accompany the Serenatas
And their fervent melodies, which
Diffuse in the air notes as sweet as the
Sound of the palms swaying in the
Sky above.

Canción del jinete

Córdoba.Lejana y sola.
Jaca negra, luna grande,
y aceitunas en mi alforja.
Aunque sepa los caminos,
yo nunca llegaré a Córdoba.
Por el llano, por el viento,
jaca negra, luna roja.
La muerte me está mirando
desde las torres de Córdoba.
¡Ay que camino tan largo!
¡Ay mi jaca valerosa!
¡Ay que la muerte me espera,
antes de llegar a Córdoba!
Córdoba.
Lejana y sola.
- Federico García Lorca

Horseman's Song

Cordoba.
Distant and alone.
A black nag, the giant moon,
and olives in my saddlebag.
Even if I know the way,
I never will reach Cordoba.
Over the plain, through the wind,
A black nag, the bloody moon.
The Reaper is watching me
From the tall towers of Cordoba.
Oh, such a long road!
Oh, my valiant nag!
Oh, the Reaper awaits me
before I ever reach Cordoba!
Cordoba.
Distant and alone.
- Translation, Charles W. Johnson

Recommended Reading:

Little Wing for you

Again - a huge mahalo for your support of my new Face Book fan page.
Here is a free download of my arrangement of Jimi's Little Wing fom my recording Branches.