The Pacific Guitar Ensemble
Michael Bautista - electric and classical guitars, bass
Peppino D-Agostino - steel string guitar
Lawrence Ferrara - classical guitar
Antoniy Kakamakov - classical guitar
Jon Mendle - classical and 11 string arch guitars, bass
Paul Psarras - classical and baroque guitars, oud, bass
David Tanenbaum - classical guitar, bass, conductor
Marc Teicholz - classical guitar
An immediate hit with its audiences, the Pacific Guitar Ensemble was founded in 2010 by classical guitarist David Tanenbaum and steel string guitarist Peppino D’Agostino: a mixed guitar ensemble able to perform a wide variety of repertoire. Made up of faculty members of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and its most exceptional alumni the Pacific Guitar Ensemble brings together a wide array of guitars and plucked instruments: nylon strings, steel, electric basses, oud and 17th century theorbos. Their repertoire ranges from arrangements of Bach, Brahms, Dowland and Rossini to original music by Sergio Assad, minimalist Belinda Reynolds, and D’Agostino. These guitarists meet to play for and with each other, learning, copying, sharing and competing. The Pacific Guitar Ensemble is dedicated to this dynamic process.
The Pacific Guitar Ensemble released its first CD, begin, in 2012.
“Over the last decade, the large guitar ensemble has become a crowd favorite at guitar festivals. The shortfall of these guitar orchestras is the limitation in variety of timbre. The Pacific Guitar Ensemble which is comprised of alumni and distinguished faculty from the world-renowned San Francisco Conservatory of Music solve this problem in a delightful and rewarding way. Ensemble members, who include David Tanenbaum, Peppino D’Agostino, Lawrence Ferrara, Jon Mendle, Michael Bautista, Marc Teicholz, Paul Psarras and Antoniy Kakamakov, fill their ensemble not just with the traditional instrumentation of classical guitars, but with a varied palette which includes steel string guitars, electric bass, electric guitar, arch lute, theorbo, and baroque guitar for a truly unique tonal experience. Opening with the premiere recording of Sergio Assad’s ‘Wednesdays at Sugar’ the listener is drawn into an intricate and elaborate musical experience. A wonderful arrangement of Fernando Sor’s ‘Gran Solo, Op. 14’ follows. Terry Riley’s ‘Y Bolanzero,’ Belinda Reynolds’ ‘Begin,’ and Peppino D’Agostino’s ‘Jump Rope’ are wonderful musical offerings with wit and charm. The setting of J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg “Concerto No. 6″ (BWV 1051) is a treat. The varied instrumentation captures the beauty of the original orchestration while offering the listener something truly new and wonderful.”
- Minor 7th - January/February 2013
Master at Play
Peppino D’Agostino is a well-known soloist on the acoustic steel-string guitar who is praised throughout the world as a master of his genre. He is becoming better known in the classical guitar world because of his collaborations with David Tanenbaum and lately because of his work with the Pacific Guitar Ensemble. His Jump Rope, written for solo guitar and inspired by claw-hammer banjo playing, was arranged for the ensemble by D’Agostino himself and Tanenbaum and added a folklike element to the PGE repertoire while still achieving a very classical level of complexity. D’Agostino has an extremely engaging musical voice, and I hope to hear more of his work in classical guitar settings.
The most compelling composition of the evening was Y Bolanzero, written by Terry Riley, the musician often credited with originating the minimalist style of classical music and also the first composer to explore the possibilities of mixing varieties of plucked-string instruments. Pacific Guitar Ensemble founder David Tanenbaum took a supportive role playing inner voices or bass guitar for most of the evening but he played the first guitar part in Y Bolanzero, and his nuanced phrasing, beautiful tone, and exquisite command of Riley’s style were revelatory.
The concert ended with wonderful arrangements by Sergio Assad of Astor Piazzolla’s Otono Porteno and Verano Porteno. Piazzolla’s alternately violent and tender music is perfectly captured by his legendary quintet and often suffers in the more decorous world of the classical guitar, yet Assad’s arrangements took advantage of the electric bass guitars and steel-string acoustic to add the needed ominous overtones.
If George Martin was sometimes called the “fifth Beatle,” perhaps Assad could be referred to as the ninth member of the Pacific Guitar Ensemble. Although he doesn’t play with the group, he had three arrangements on this recital and an original composition, Wednesdays at Sugar, on the group’s excellent debut CD, which I purchased after the recital. For me, the concert continued delightfully on my ride home in the car, with another standout piece being the powerful Begin by composer Belinda Reynolds and dedicated to the memory of Jorge Liderman.
- SF Classical Voice - October 27, 2012
Expanding the Guitar’s Possibilities
The classical guitar is a subtle instrument best known for its intimate solo voice. In recent decades, a growing number of duos, trios, and quartets have been exploring the coloristic, dynamic, and contrapuntal possibilities of the instrument in an ensemble setting. More recently, larger ensembles have begun exploring the creative possibilities.
The Pacific Guitar Ensemble is an unusually diverse group that combines acoustic steel-string, classical, Baroque, electric, and bass guitars with oud and theorbo. The group was formed in 2010 when classical guitarist David Tanenbaum and steel-string guitarist Peppino D’Agostino wanted to explore the untapped potential offered by combining a variety of plucked instruments in a larger guitar ensemble. The result, as heard in a recital presented by the Omni Foundation on Saturday in San Francisco’s Green Room, is an ensemble sound that is sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic, but always alluring.
The evening began with Fernando Sor’s Grand Solo, Op. 14, a work originally written for solo guitar that emulates the symphonic style of Sor’s contemporary Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Sergio Assad’s brilliant arrangement for the Pacific Guitar Ensemble acknowledges the work’s original symphonic inspiration by expanding it with additional counterpoint and ornamentation and by enriching the guitar sound with the addition of bass guitar and the harpsichord-like timbre of the acoustic steel-string guitar.
The sound world of the group got wider with Alkioni, a composition by group member Paul Psarras, based on a Greek myth about a man and his wife punished by the gods for imagining they were happier and more in love than Zeus and Hera. The sun-drenched idyll of ancient Greece as well as the subsequent dramatic events were effectively captured by the modal writing and by Psarras’ highly effective performance on the oud, an instrument often used in traditional Greek music.
The original scoring for Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto” No. 6 is unusual because it doesn’t use violins. instead featuring two violas, two violas de gamba, a cello, a violone, and a harpsichord. The resulting low tessitura makes it particularly felicitous for guitar ensemble. The group as a whole sounded somewhat lackluster in the piece, with most members focused entirely on their scores, though the brilliant solo parts (featuring intricate canons and bravura passages) were performed with incredible élan and with open and flexible ensemble skill by the soloists Michael Bautista and Marc Teicholz.
“David Tanenbaum and Peppino D’Agostino have put together the most innovative guitar ensemble ever, with eight outstanding performers on classical and steel string guitars, electric basses, and 17th-century the orbos. They play music written by composers like Brazilian guitar legend Sergio Assad, noted minimalist Belinda Reynolds, and D’Agostino, the group’s own brilliant steel-string stylist, as well as fresh arrangements of great composers from Bach to Brahms, Dowland to Rossini.”
- SF Classical Voice – October 27, 2012