Musician’s View – Italian Guitar

MCO’s Italian Guitar can be heard in Melbourne on Thursday 27 February and Sunday 1 March at Melbourne Recital Centre.


MCO: Chamber orchestras are often found arranging string quartets for string orchestra—indeed Verdi was known to have performed his Quartet as a “string symphony” on more than one occasion. But of course, string quartets don’t usually have a double bass in them. So what will your part involve? Why will people enjoy hearing a quartet played by an orchestra?
Emma: When we think of Verdi, we are immediately transported to the opulence and drama of 19th century Italian opera. His String Quartet in E minor is his only work of chamber music and, while clearly influenced by the Germanic traditions established by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, it is still very much in an operatic spirit. Verdi did himself experiment with presenting the work for full strings and the acclaimed Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini also created his own edition for chamber orchestra. MCO will be creating our own version for this concert and I always enjoy collaborating with [Artistic Director] William Hennessy and [Principal Cello] Michael Dahlenburg to design a bass part that supports and enhances the rest of the ensemble. At times, I will simply double the cello part but, in other moments, it is more effective for the bass to provide the harmonic scaffolding or even offer a new texture with pizzicato or a different articulation.
What I love about adapting quartets for the chamber orchestra (other than the fact that I can finally play them!) is that it gives us the opportunity to see these great works in a totally new light—the climactic moments can be supported by bigger forces, the more intimate passages can benefit from the collective string sound, and the double bass adds an entirely new layer to the texture.
MCO: This Giuliani concerto isn’t your “standard fare” concerto in a few ways — what is unusual or unique about this concerto, and what should we listen for?
Emma: Mauro Giuliani was a celebrated guitar virtuoso and composer and is often credited with popularising the guitar throughout Europe in the early 19th century. Such was his success that Beethoven even composed some short works especially for him to perform. Giuliani’s Concerto No. 1 in A Major is often considered the first true guitar concerto and blends the Italian opera buffa (comic opera) tradition of his formative years with Viennese style. It is this combination of musical styles that sets the work apart from more traditional Classical and Romantic concertos. It is on quite a grand scale, with extended orchestral tuttis that feel more like opera overtures than the beginning of a concerto. Nowadays guitar soloists have the advantage of amplification, which allows them to play incredibly ornate and virtuosic music and still project above the orchestra. As that was not an option in Giuliani’s time, the composer varies the texture, utilising only a handful of players when the guitar is being featured and largely reserving the impact of the full ensemble for the tutti passages. Rather than having one singular extended cadenza in each movement, Giuliani peppers each movement with mini cadenzas and embellishments, another nod to operatic style.
MCO: How does the orchestra adapt to different solo instruments? How are you thinking about performing with a guitarist as soloist?
Emma: Every solo instrument demands a slightly different approach from the orchestra, and the beauty of a chamber orchestra is that the ensemble is small enough for every musician to engage with the soloist and respond to their interpretation of the music. One unique aspect of playing with guitar is that it is one of the few classical solo instruments that is enhanced by amplification. This allows the audience and the orchestra to hear every intricate detail of the solo part and also enables a wider scope of dynamic contrast and colour from both the soloist and the full ensemble. As the guitar is a plucked string instrument, it has a very immediate attack to the sound. This differs significantly to bowed string instruments and it is important for us to ensure that we play with enough clarity and articulation to match and support the guitar as much as possible. MCO had the pleasure of performing Rodrigo’s iconic Concierto de Aranjuez with Slava Grigoryan in 2018 and we were all so inspired by his mastery and musicality—I am really looking forward to working with him again and witnessing his approach to these beautiful concertos by Vivaldi and Giuliani.