Grange Coffeehouse

March 28, 2008

Grange Coffeehouse Offers Evening Of First-Rate Music And Congeniality

Sandwich can be pretty quiet in the wintertime. Four years ago, Mark Wiklund and his friends decided to remedy that situation by providing a place for people to go—in Sandwich, in the off-season—to hear good music and enjoy an evening out with friends. They decided to start an informal coffeehouse, and the result is the very successful Grange Hall Coffeehouse, which brings diverse styles of traditional and contemporary music to the appreciative residents of Sandwich and surrounding towns. Concerts are held once a month from September to May (except for December, January, and February, when the weather is just too unpredictable).

A recent concert featured the Back Bay Guitar Trio, a very impressive group of guitarists who delighted the audience with their unique blend of classical, contemporary, and Brazilian jazz music, played on classical guitars. The program began with Annika Lückenbergfeld, a young professional classical mandolin player from Germany, currently studying improvisation at Berklee College of Music, and also included a talented Sandwich High School sophomore Anna Gannett, who played classical guitar.

Ms. Lückenbergfeld played mandolin flawlessly, gracefully, and delicately, offering a range of musical styles from an 18th century French composition to a 21st century Japanese piece, a Brazilian piece, and a work by a German composer written just for her. The pieces were intricate, featuring quickly changing moods and dynamics and showing off the full range of the instrument, as well as occasional use of rhythmic, percussive slapping of the instrument. For those used to the mandolin as a bluegrass instrument, this was a wonderful introduction to the classical and modern potential of the instrument.

At this, her first concert in which she spoke English to the audience, Ms. Lückenbergfeld exhibited a wonderful stage presence, keeping her composure when a string broke while she was tuning on stage. “And now I play for the first time on a seven-string mandolin,” she smiled.

The Back Bay Guitar Trio was formed about seven years ago by David Newsam, John Mason, and Steve Marchena, three very versatile guitar players who play together with remarkable technical precision and an expressive sense of unity. Though they all began their musical lives on the electric guitar, they all gravitated toward the classical guitar, attracted by the sound of the instrument and by the music of Brazil and other lands and eras.

The trio began with three folk songs from Brazil, by turn happy, meditative, and jazzy, featuring rhythmic handslapping of the strings. This was followed by a Mozart medley, an arrangement of two pieces written by Leopold and Wolfgang for piano. The music was exquisitely played, and the good feeling was augmented by the smiles from the performers, especially Mr. Mason, a very talented musician and former student of Mr. Newsam’s at Berklee, who maintained a vibrant smile throughout much of the evening, communicating with the other musicians through his eyes, his face, and his very expressive body.

The guitar players had trouble with tuning too, on this rainy night in March, triggering a comment from one of the players: “Guitarists spend half their lives tuning and the other half playing out of tune.”

The quality of the music more than made up for these minor distractions. The concert continued with a medley of works by Argentine composer Astor Piazolla and Spanish composer Fernando Sor, and selections from Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos’ studies for Segovia, the last of which was dark, moody, and contemporary. There was more Brazilian music: a gentle, soothing melody from Antonio Carlos Jobim, and a more energetic and rhythmic based on folk melodies.

Each of the three members of the trio played a solo, and there were also several duets, in various combinations. A highlight of the evening came when Ms. Lückenbergfeld joined the trio on stage. The interplay of the guitars and the mandolin was very satisfying, and I enjoyed the rhythmic handslapping of the guitar in response to mandolin phrases.

Jazz was well represented by the trio’s transcriptions of a Gershwin piano prelude and a Dave Brubeck composition. Mr. Marchena added harmonica to a couple of numbers, and all three participated in an intricate piece featuring a great variety of guitar-slapping percussion: on the strings, on the front, back, and sides of instrument, providing a whole new range of percussive effects.

The performance ended with an amusing encore: the theme from the Mario Brothers video game. It is hard to believe, but the Back Bay Guitar Trio made even this otherwise annoying theme sound like beautiful music.

Careful selection of talented performers has done much to make the Grange Coffeehouse a success, but there is more to this place than great music. The concert was made all the more enjoyable by the setting, the comfortable, friendly, and intimate Grange Coffeehouse, 91 Old County Road, East Sandwich East Sandwich. Built in 1889, the hall has been a social center for the community for years and currently hosts a wide variety of social and cultural events.

As the Grange Coffeehouse, the building is set up with rows of card tables and chairs (dating back to the 1950s), creating an authentic coffeehouse setting. The tables are covered with folksy tablecloths, in different patterns and colors. Coffee, tea, and other beverages are sold, along with tempting desserts. The stage is small, but warmly lit, and nicely decorated with artwork and plants. It is a friendly place to be, and you can tell that a lot of the audience members know each other and enjoy the congenial atmosphere.

The next concert at the Grange Coffeehouse is April 12, at 8 PM (doors open at 7:30), featuring Aztec Two-Step. The duo consists of Rex Folwer and Neal Shulman, who have been playing and singing jazzy acoustic folk music together since 1971. Known for their “intellectual lyricism” and “ethereal harmonies,” they are sure to attract an enthusiastic crowd to the Grange Coffeehouse. Tickets at $22/person. For more information, contact the coffeehouse at 508-418-0888 or visit http://www.grangehallcoffeehouse.org.

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