Classical guitarist Vieaux to play Bankhead Theater
By Lou Fancher
A Steinway Model D years-ago replaced the Yamaha piano that inspired Del Valle Fine Arts' 38 seasons presenting classical music chamber concerts in the Tri-Valley, but the nonprofit's ambitions and outreach have been grand from Day One.
Presenting five concerts every year, the all-volunteer organization has marshaled notable artists from internationally-recognized ensembles like San Francisco-based Kronos Quartet to the winners of the highly-regarded Cleveland International Piano Competition to Grammy-winning artists like this season's guitarist Jason Vieaux and more.
With an eye on launching the next generation of music-makers, Del Valle offers free admission to children and special ticket prices to full-time, post-high school students. Many of Del Valle's guest artists visit Livermore schools to workshop or engage in master classes with local youth musicians.
Vieaux, who will appear in an eclectic program Feb. 13 at the Bankhead Theater, where Del Valle is a resident company, will travel to Joe Michell School and Croce Elementary School.
"Most musicians that we bring in want to work with students because they're educators themselves," says Del Valle Board President Jo Ann Koopman. "They understand how they were exposed to music in their homes or schools. Many kids don't have that now, so bringing classical music to kids in schools is our mission."
Koopman, a piano teacher for 51 years who still has eight private-lesson students and says she "likes to pretend she's retired," began attending the concerts in 1978. Now an active participant in the selection of musicians for each season, she says reputation and virtuoso playing are the primary criteria guiding the choices. Although they are particularly fond of discovering young talent, established performers like Vieaux, snared for the season just one week before he won the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Classical Instrumental Solo for his 2014 album "Play," cause equal delight.
"We were thrilled because (winning) the award doesn't happen very often for a classical guitarist," says Koopman. (The most recent Grammy-winning classical guitarist, Sharon Isbin, won in 2001 and 2010 and appeared at the Bankhead in 2014.)
Because the Del Valle presents only solo artists and chamber music groups at the Bankhead, where Koopman says "the acoustics are perfect without amplification," concerts have an intimate atmosphere. Koopman says Vieaux and other artists appearing this season, The Telegraph Quartet (April 2) and the Eos Ensemble (May 7), are particularly engaging and accessible in performance.
Vieaux says his 20 years of performing have taught him to read the room while providing history or context for a selection.
"I try to keep it short," he says. "Not every audience member wants to hear someone rambling lecture-style during a performance. I feel out an audience."
Drawing upon a vast repertoire of music he admires -- classical, jazz, pop, heavy metal, alternative rock, South American and more--the setlist for the upcoming program includes expected pieces by Bach and Albéniz, but also Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" and Pat Metheny's "Always and Forever." Vieaux says Metheny is just one of many musicians with whom he'd like to collaborate beyond performing their music transcribed for guitar. "Bach, hands down," he says is his choice for partnering with an 18th century musician.
Beyond that time period, writing an instrumental break for the Atlanta-based band Mastodon or partnering with Jay-Z or A Tribe Called Quest and other dreams leave him to say, "There's all sorts of things that I think could work, if all parties were open. I'd probably learn a lot more from them than the other way around."
As co-founder of the guitar department at The Curtis Institute of Music and an instructor/department head at the Cleveland Institute of Music since 1997, he says his one-on-one online school, The Jason Vieaux Classical Guitar School, is an effective vehicle for teaching.
"The volume of information I'm giving to various students over the course of a week is spread out to more people because every subscriber can view any video exchange on the site."
It's also more economical than one-hour lessons in a studio because the 10-minute bullet list and demo format condenses multiple lessons into a library of small-scale, virtual master classes. Teaching and touring with his double-top 2005 and 2013 Gernot Wagners leaves Vieaux -- who's also a family man and currently working on a film with Emmy-winning Los Angeles film composer Jeff Beal -- with little time for new projects.
Even so, he will premiere a new concerto by Dan Visconti with California Symphony in May 2016 and says ideas for a sonata "float around." In the meantime, he'll continue to improvise onstage, operate like a ghost writer by composing for other musicians and transcribe music selected from a wide pool to perform on his guitar.