A Paul Galbraith Performance: It’s Personal

Paul Galbraith
Paul Galbraith

When the Grammy-nominated classical guitarist Paul Galbraith performs at Hope College on March 1, it will be his fourth appearance on our campus. While I’ve presented many artists to Hope over the years, no one has made four visits. Until now.

Galbraith is unique, not only in his skill on guitar, but also because he has been instrumental in moving the classical guitar world through the sometimes hard wall of what constitutes classical music. . . and that does not usually include a guitar. He surprises people with his playing ability, his interpretations of classical standards, and even his one-of-a-kind playing style.

Presenting the performing arts is part of my work at Hope. For 20 years, I have listened to countless recordings, attended performances, watched videos, and read scripts in the search for the right performers to bring to the Hope and Holland communities. So, when the performers finally reach our stage, I’m already very familiar with their work. I have an idea what to expect.

But once and awhile, someone surprises me.

I was not raised on classical music and have little formal training. Fortunately, you do not need that to enjoy and indeed be moved by a performance. I remember one of the first performers I booked here was the pianist Sergio Tiempo who performed Maurice Ravel’s  Gaspard de la nuit.” I was caught off guard by the power of each single note creating a haunting scene. One note, played quietly, sounding like a distant bell tolling to announce a death.

More recently, Trio Con Brio Copenhagen performed Bedrich Smetana’s “Trio in G minor” and it pulled hard at me. Instinctively I recognized it as a piece on grief. It was only later, when I read the trio’s program notes, did I realize that Smetana wrote the piece in response to the death of his five-year-old daughter. As a parent of a child who died far too young, Smetana’s piece reached across 200 years to grieve with me. This is what art can do.

Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach

My response has also been strong to anything written by Bach. The clean, structured pieces can be playful or thoughtful, but they are always stunningly beautiful. This “beautiful” probably resonates more strongly with me because for Bach, who has been called “The Fifth Evangelist,” that beauty comes from God. While the pieces by Ravel and Smetana address our sorrows, Bach addresses our hope. Perhaps that is why whenever I see that Bach is on the program, I know I’m going to leave the concert with a renewed faith.

My experience of this has been most strong when hearing Paul Galbraith perform Bach. He clearly loves that 17th century composer as his work appears on five of Galbraith’s eight recordings. Two of his recordings focus on Bach alone and his 1998 recording of Bach’s complete Sonatas and Partitas received a Grammy nomination, ended up in Billboard’s Top Ten classical chart, and was called a “landmark in the history of guitar recordings” by Gramophone Magazine.

While his Grammy nomination got him some attention, his development of  the 8-string guitar that he plays like a cello makes him instantly recognizable.

Better than any award, the legend of classical guitar, Andreas Segovia, heard the then 17-year-old Galbraith play and declared, “Paul is magnificent. He will be a great artist.”  Not surprising, Segovia was right. Galbraith enjoys a great solo career but was also a founding member of the highly regard Brazilian Guitar Quartet (even though he is from Scotland!). He is in demand to perform with chamber groups and orchestras and is now working with the great Brazilian cellist Antonio Meneses.

Galbraith’s program at Hope is more varied this time and I have no doubt all of it will be excellent. Plus, the chance to hear him perform in the acoustically superior concert hall at the Jack H. Miller Center is too good to miss. If you have never heard a classical guitar concert, there will be no better first experience than this concert.

By the way, he opens the performance with Bach.

And, I’ll be happy.

Tickets to the Paul Galbraith concert can be purchased online, in person at the Hope College Ticket Office, or at the door on the evening of the performance. Adult tickets are $10, seniors $7, and children $5.

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