Guitar in orchestral and chamber music

Started by paavolapyry, April 04, 2023, 09:29:12 AM

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I recently asked around some friends about how they view the guitar as an orchestral instrument and, well, the answers were quite simple: it doesn't often blend well.

So, give me your thoughts.

I am planning to start a small project myself to try and see in which ways I can blend guitar.

I am not asking for help on the project, but mainly here to do some small background research. So, how do you view the guitar in chamber or orchestral music. Pros and cons or whatever you fancy.

More details in the comments (in order to keep the main content small enough for people to read it)


Also: Do you see potential for there being a setting for the electric guitar, which would blend nicely? Not talking about a lot of gain here or a rock sound or even a jazz sound but something specifically for orchestral play. I have also experimented a bit with the steel string guitar, as I am not only a classical guitar player but also a folk (as in traditional Nordic folk music) player. Had a project for oboe and steel string guitar actually, but it hasn't gotten off the ground yet.

For examples: Tango en Skai is a piece by Roland Dyens and it has what in my opinion is a great version with Enno Voorhost and "The String Soloists". In my mind it blends nicely, although the strings can definitely be overpowering. It captures the idea of the original nicely and feels to build on it. For an example that in my mind is worse, played by Dyens in the specific example but composed by Heitor Villa-Lobos, take a look at Concerto pour guitare et petit orchestre, W501. It does not feel to get the touch in the same way, even though there is an idea there, but something about the balance and blending feels... wrong to me. This is only my personal opinion and I am comparing this to my personal goals with the project.

End goal of the project would be to a) identify the difficulties b) find ways to overcome those c) change the composing and playing style of the guitar to fit the purpose d) work on the dynamics and mixing e) also look at electronic guitar and acoustic steel string guitar. I do believe that the problem is with how so often the guitar is such a solo instrument and the way people, myself included, compose for it is so solo-based. I also find that the dynamics in the recordings are often questionable: The guitar seems to be too loud. This is all personal preference however.

Project will be documented.


I'm no expert on this, but I do know this: used with imagination and played with skill, the electric guitar is a fabulous and underused resource. Gavin Bryars uses it often, in what seems to me to be a unique manner, and it's hugely effective in his work. His regular guitarist, in his ensemble, which is otherwise  mostly dominated by lower strings, is James Woodrow. However, the standout work, and a key work in my own musical universe, is his piece After the Requiem; on the fabulous ECM recording the guitarist is the wonderful Bill Frisell. The guitar in this work is used like I've never heard before. It sings, speaks, soars, its sound splits and seeps and bleeds and freaks. Underneath, the grainy ensemble of two violas and one cello broods and ruminates, aching like a bruise. It alone would be enough to convince me that the guitar should be used a lot more.



This. The cadenza like passage towards the end, with the sul pont strings, is a particularly amazing sound, that the whole piece builds towards.