Throwback guitarists Benjamin Verdery and Andrew York highlight CSUMB’s second annual California Summer Arts program.

When Ben Verdery arranges Jimi Hendrix’s fuzzed out “Ezy Rider” or Johann Strauss’ waltz “The Blue Danube” for classical guitar, he approaches them with equal intensity. “I’m essentially creating a new piece for the classical guitar, so my concern is, how can I make this great on the classical guitar?” he asks. “Arrangements are somewhat trial and error.”

The renowned classical guitarist has been chair of the guitar department at the Yale University School of Music since 1985 and artistic director of art of the guitar at the 92nd Street Y in New York City since 2006. His collaborators include Grammy Award-winning classical guitarist John Williams (John Williams Plays Vivaldi), guitarist Andy Summers of The Police (First You Build a Cloud) and steel string guitarist William Coulter.

As part of CSU Monterey Bay’s second annual California Summer Arts event (see story, p. 38), Verdery will perform a solo recital Wednesday at the World Theater. He will also be on hand through July 7 to teach a master class in Dominguez Hall.

Along with Verdery’s repertoire of original compositions spanning 22 albums, some of his most dynamic work comes in arrangements of songs by other musicians, including many tunes you’d never expect to hear on classical guitar.

Verdery’s most recent record Happy Here features a mellow rendition of Cream’s psychedelic classic “White Room.” Though the time signature is slower than the version rocked by Baker, Clapton and Bruce, Verdery captures the essence of the tune.

“I always try to find that game changer,” he says. “When something sounds great on the classical guitar, that’s when we have something we can work with.”

Prince’s “Purple Rain,” “Kiss,” “For the Tears in Your Eyes” and “Let’s Go Crazy” are probably the most unexpected of any of the music Verdery has taken on, but they work very well – “Let’s Go Crazy’s” main guitar riff translates seamlessly to classical. “It’s important to go outside of your comfort zone,” he says. “When people stay very close to their comfort zone they don’t progress. As a teacher, if I can give [students] the confidence to go forward and believe in themselves, that’s great.”

Classical guitarist Andrew York also performs on Wednesday. Endowed with influences ranging from bluegrass to folk to jazz, the Grammy Award-winning guitarist/composer is the only USC graduate – he earned a master’s of music – to ever receive the Outstanding Alumni of the Year Award twice.

“Andrew York’s eclectic writing and playing constitute one of the hippest styles in American classical guitar,” Guitar Player Magazine’s Jim Ferguson writes. “His writing projects, levels of honesty, spirit and magnetism are rare in contemporary guitar composition.”


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)

Wake Forest Univ and Montpellier, France

The summer months were busy for me as I went from Norfolk, CT to Woodstock, NY to Maui to Annandale-on-Hudson. September 23 I’ll be at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. I’m putting the finishing touches on a work based on a poem by Pablo Neruda for Six Perspectives of Latin America: Homage to Pablo Neruda featuring myself and Eliot Fisk. The program will also include the premieres of Javier Farías “Geografía de un Canto” for solo guitar (Eliot), and “Cortada fue la Tierra” for two guitars. Brendle Recital Hall - SFAC 7:30 p.m. Free and open to the public. For more information call (336)-758-5026.

Following North Carolina it’s back to the old country September 27-28 and Les Internationales de la Guitare in Montpellier, France.

More news and great new videos coming soon…….

Norfolk Chamber Music Festival โ€“ Friday, June 27

7:30pm  •  Music Shed  •  Free Admission
Norfolk, CT

Under the direction of composer Martin Bresnick, Norfolk's acclaimed New Music Workshop invites composers and instrumentalists to study the dynamics of taking a piece from a composer's imagination to the performance hall. The 2014 Workshop focuses on new music for guitar and ensembles. The Workshop culminates in a performance featuring guitar virtuosi and composers Benjamin Verdery and Van Stiefel, pianist Lisa Moore and the Norfolk Contemporary Ensemble led by conductor Julian Pellicano.

Martin Bresnick director, Julian Pellicano conductor,
Benjamin Verdery guitar/composer, Van Stiefel guitar/composer
Lisa Moore
piano and Fellows of the Norfolk Festival