We're used to seeing a violinist, cellist or pianist headline Madison Symphony Orchestra concerts, playing a stormy Russian concerto or a Beethoven favorite.
This weekend's concerts offer something a bit different -- a Spanish concerto performed by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Friday through Sunday, March 9-11, in Overture Hall in Madison, Wisc.
Bringing such an ensemble is a minor risk given the 6,000-plus seats the symphony wants to sell, but it's a calculated one. Madison classical music lovers responded enthusiastically to Joaquin Rodrigo's 1967 "Concierto Andaluz" -- the piece to be played this weekend -- in January 2010, when the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet performed it with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.
And the LAGQ has toured here twice in the past, to the Wisconsin Union Theater in 2003 and the Capitol Theater, with Brazilian singer Luicana Souza, in 2006.
Founded at the University of the Southern California in 1980, the quartet's original members are William Kanengiser, Scott Tenant and John Dearman. Matthew Greif replaced Andrew York in 2006, the year after the group won a Grammy Award for the crossover album "Guitar Heroes."
Guitar quartets are unusual among instrumental ensembles because all four players use the same instrument. The typical string quartet structure is double high (two violins), one mid-range (viola) and one low (cello). Other ensembles use the soprano/tenor/alto/baritone structure of a saxophone quartet.
The benefit of the guitar quartet's set-up is that any player can play any part. The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet makes one tweak to this -- Dearman often plays a guitar with one extra string.
"My guitar can function as a cello-type instrument, but it's still a regular guitar, so it can also play high parts," Dearman said.
"Any one guitarist in our group can play the lowest part, the middle part, the accompaniment, the lead or the melodies," Dearman added. "It's got a huge tonal range, especially compared to a piano."
On national recital tours, the quartet performs a mix of pieces, including about two-thirds transcriptions -- music written for orchestra or piano that one of the players adapts for the quartet.
"Guitar is a really hard instrument for composers to write for," Dearman said. "A lot of composers don't want to mess with it ... and to write for four is that much more difficult."
The remaining third are works written for the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet or a similar ensemble, like Los Romeros Guitar Quartet (mentors and teachers of the LAGQ, for whom Rodrigo's "Concierto Andaluz" was written).
Spanish music, like the Rodrigo piece, has become closely linked with classical guitar. The Los Angeles group both embraces and expands this, performing jazz adaptations of Miles Davis tunes but also releasing "LAGQ: Latin" and "LAGQ Brazil," among others, over the last 10 years.
The Spanish connection is "just archetypal," Dearman said. "The Rodrigo is a very folkloric piece. The first movement's a bolero and the last movement is a sevillanas (a Castillan folk dance)."
The quartet has also been touring a work called "The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote: Words and Music from the Time of Cervantes," a blend of words and music they premiered with Monty Python actor John Cleese. A DVD recording of the performance is likely to be released in time for the MSO concert.
And if concertgoers like the Rodrigo, LAGQ released a recording of the concerto with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra in 2010 called "Interchange."
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