Mon, Mar 11, 2002

World premiere is just a beginning

By Ken Keuffel

Jeffrey Van's Concerto for Two Guitars and Chamber Orchestra seems destined to enrich the guitar's concerto repertory. Don't be surprised if friends in distant places send news of its success with other orchestras.

The four-movement work, given its world premiere Friday by the Carolina Chamber Symphony in Brendle Recital Hall at Wake Forest University, highlighted an exceptionally fine concert of American music conducted by Robert Franz. The two soloists - Van and Patricia Dixon, a professor at Wake Forest University - captured a wide range of expressive qualities.

Van's Double Concerto abounds in idiomatically appealing writing for the soloists as well as colorful, skillfully composed orchestrations. It's got a bit of everything, all of it stated with subtlety and wit: improbably formulated quotations of South American folk music, delightful passages for wooden percussion instruments, sly viola solos that sound like a sheepish cat's meow and plenty of vibrant strumming-induced rhythm. The work has personality galore. It's written to please both the novice and sophisticated listener. 

Unaccompanied or lightly accompanied duets flow seamlessly in and out of the orchestral fabric. The balances with soloists and orchestra always work. Van's piece is the best kind of chamber music for two soloists and the best kind of chamber music for orchestra. It took Dixon more than two years to make this work happen - and a lot of hard work to make sure it went as well as it did Friday.

Ken Keuffel can be reached at 727-7337 or at


My collaboration with Jeffrey Van began in 1997 when I invited him to Wake Forest to attend the performance of one of his pieces for chorus and guitar, "A Procession Winding Around Me", performed by one of my students, Seth Brodsky, now a graduate of Eastman School of Music.
The piece moved me so much that I decided to commission a piece for chamber orchestra and guitar. After Jeffrey invited me to perform  his  "Partita for Two Guitars", we had so much fun playing together that the concerto commission emerged rather naturally to include two guitars. 
My main objective in all the commissions I have done so far, is to expand the chamber repertoire for guitar by leaving  pieces that are are well written for the instrument and accessible to most players.
Our collaboration has surpassed all my expectations. Later this year will publish a recording of Jeffrey Van's music which will include two choral works, a guitar duo and the Double Guitar Concerto. The recording will feature the Wake Forest Concert Choir under the direction of Dr. Brain Gorelick.
The concerto will be premiered in Winston-Salem by the Carolina Chamber Symphony and there are four performances scheduled in May of 2003 in Carmel and Salinas, California by the Monterey Symphony, under the direction of Kate Tamarkin.
We are extremely grateful for the grants we have received from the Graduate and Undergraduate Schools at Wake Forest University.


Photo by Tom Foley of Minneapolis, Minnesota