Classical Guitarist Benjamin Verdery

In advance of classical guitarist Benjamin Verdery’s February 18 performance with the Simon Sinfonieta at Falmouth Academy, my husband Glenn and I recently traveled to New Haven to interview him at his office at Yale University.

The video interview will be available soon on FCTV and the web. Verdery is great fun to talk to. He discussed his inspiration to play the guitar (the Beatles!) and what drew him to classical music (he heard Walter (later Wendy) Carlos play “Switched On Bach”). He also talks about—and plays excerpts from—the pieces he will be performing in Falmouth and about his Cape Cod connections.

Verdery will be playing Vivaldi’s Guitar Concerto in D Major (originally written for lute) and Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuez. Both works, the first composed in 17th-century Venice and the other written in Paris in 1939, are known for their very moving second movements, Verdery told us.

Ben is a virtuoso guitarist with a great enthusiasm for music of all kinds, from Bach to Jimi Hendrix, from classical to jazz to rock to world and contemporary music.

An accomplished teacher, he has chaired the guitar department at the Yale School of Music since 1985 and is artistic director of the bi-annual Yale Guitar Extravaganza. He conducts master classes throughout the US and around the world, including an annual masterclass in Hawaii–believing beautiful surroundings inspire musicians.

He is a highly respected performer and recording artist (over 15 albums), playing concerts in New York and other locales around the world. He most often performs as a soloist but also shares the stage with other guitarists and with his wife, flutist Rie Schmidt.

Many works have been composed for Verdery, and he is an innovative and prolific composer as well. According to a recent concert notice at Yale, many of Benjamin Verdery’s compositions have been performed, recorded and published over the years, including the recent What He Said (premiered by the Assad Duo at the 92nd St Y); Now and Ever (for David Russell, Telarc), and Peace, Love and Guitars for John Williams and John Etheridge (SONY).

And he has strong ties to the Cape. Verdery grew up in Connecticut, but spent many summers on Cape Cod. One of his compositions–one of his favorites, he told us–is called “Dennis.” Named after the Cape Cod town, “Dennis” is a duet for alto flute and guitar, and Verdery wrote it to capture his impressions of the beach in Dennis, the water, the sand, the shells, the whole experience of being on the Cape.

WCAI’s The Point with Mindy Todd uses as their theme music an excerpt of a piece composed and performed by Ben Verdery, and he will be a guest on The Point on February 16. Woods Hole composer Ezra Laderman has written compositions for Verdery.

The September 18 performance will be Verdery’s first Cape Cod performance, and he is looking forward to it. We are too. Verdery is a vibrant performer, and his love for music is wonderfully contagious.

I found the following videos on Youtube (there are many more) that give a glimpse of Ben’s philosophy of music and examples of his playing. All three of these were filmed for KBS-TV in Seoul, Korea during Verdery’s 2010 trip there.

In the first, he recounts his discovery of Couperin’s “Mysterious Barricades” and performs the piece, which was written in 1717 for harpsichord.

In the next two, he is interviewed by a woman who speaks in Korean. You will have to guess what her questions are. In the first, he talks about Buddhism in his life.

In the second, he talks about improvisation and gives advice to students.

Stephen Simon, maestro of the Simon Sinfonietta, met and performed with Verdery years ago in New York, where both men live.

In addition to the two guitar pieces, the February 18 concert will include Mozart’s Prague Symphony and Carl Maria von Weber’s second symphony.

The concert begins at 7:30 PM at Falmouth Academy at 7 Highfield Drive in Falmouth. Tickets are $40, $10 for students, and may be purchased by calling 508-457-9696, by mailing a check made out to Simon Sinfonietta at FA to Falmouth Academy, 7 Highfield Drive, Falmouth, MA 02540, or by online at www.simonsinfonietta.org/tickets.html.

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