Classical guest guitarist provides unique concert experience

The Townsend School of Music continued their Guest Artist concert series with Benjamin Altman, a renowned classical guitarist.  Altman performs as both a soloist and collaborative artist, having played with a variety of groups including the Macon Symphony Orchestra and the Colorado Guitar Quartet.  He has also performed numerous pieces in orchestral and chamber settings on mandolin.  In addition to his success as a performer, Altman has taught for ten years on faculty at different music schools and centers.  He currently runs his own private studio in Denver, Colo., Altman’s performance at Mercer was especially exciting to the faculty and staff of the Townsend School of Music, because he is the son of a Townsend piano professor, Dr. Ian Altman.

The concert was unique, unlike anything scheduled for the remainder of the school’s current concert season.  Classical guitar repertoire is incredibly uncommon and complex to a listener accustomed to the more contemporary guitar hits of today.  Classical guitar differs not only in the immense variations in repertoire but also in parts of its construction.  Classical guitars use strings of polymer, while acoustic and electric guitars, heard in today’s popular music, use metal strings.  This detail alone drastically changes the sound that results when a string is plucked.  Classical guitarists also pluck very precisely, with their fingernails or fingertips instead of using picks.  The variety of sounds a classical guitarist can make with a single guitar is impressive and incredibly unique.

The concert lasted just over an hour and was separated into two parts by a short intermission.  This intermission served as a very distinct break in the kinds of classical guitar repertoire presented.  The concert began with “Variations on a Theme by Mozart” (Op. 9) and the first half of the concert continued with music from 18th and 19th century composers.  These pieces were highly expressive, and the resulting timbre resounded effortlessly throughout Fickling Recital Hall. The songs of the first half, while more elegant and classical in quality, were incredibly entertaining. The audience remained incredibly engaged and quiet throughout the performance, as not to miss a single pluck of a string.

The second half of the concert contained more recent classical guitar pieces from composers of the 20th and 21st centuries.  These pieces had more modern musical qualities. Altman, an individual guitarist, accomplished incredible musical feats and ideas that are rarely realized by multiple guitars simultaneously.  These pieces not only contained incredibly precise plucking of strings, but also included strummed chords as well as beating on the drum for a percussive effect.  These pieces tended to be more fast-paced and shorter in length compared to the more elegant, elaborated pieces at the beginning of the concert. The audience appeared to have enjoyed the variety between sets, particularly “Birds” (Op. 66) by John Duarte, which contained three movements each portraying a different kind of bird.  The concert itself was incredible and stood out from other concerts held in Fickling this semester.  Classical guitar is individual in its variety of repertoire and its unique performance. This individuality was evident in Altman’s concert.