By Mifield Xu
On September 8, 2017, the Friday of Homecoming weekend, the renowned classical guitarist Jason Vieaux performed on campus as part of the St. John’s College Concert Series. Since it was a solo performance, there was great latitude for him to choose the pieces that he wished to showcase, of which he took full advantage: the program included pieces composed by, among others, J.S. Bach (1685-1750), Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909), and Duke Ellington (1899-1974), demonstrating his appreciation for and comfort with the music styles of many periods. In fact, Jason decided at the last minute, perhaps on a whim, to perform Bach’s BWV 998 Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E-flat major, instead of the BWV 996 Lute Suite No. 1 in E minor in the printed concert program. Comparing BWV 998 to a piece of architecture, he demonstrated with examples the simple three-note motif that is present in all parts of the piece in one form or another—the original, rhythmically changed, inverted, etc.
Perhaps more remarkably, for Albéniz’s op. 165, no. 5 Capricho Catalán, Jason Vieaux retuned the lowest string on his guitar to a D, instead of the normal E. For me personally, a casual listener who doesn’t know a whole lot about guitars, perhaps the only difference was that the amount of time it took to retune was considerably longer than the other moments where he had to retune because of the changing temperature in the room. Nevertheless, it struck me as a particularly powerful demonstration of the flexibility of our relationship to music—neither us, nor the music we produce, should be rigid beings that cannot adapt to our environments.