Portbou - Bryce Dessner
Happy Spring and almost summer! It's bee a busy and wonderfully musical last few months.
One of the highlights had to be premiering Bryce Dessner's Quintet for High Strings at the 92 Y on May 10 with the incredible St. Lawrence Quartet. I look forward to recording the stunning work with he quartet sometime next season. It was a night to remember for sure with so many friends, family, students and mentors in the audience.
Before the May 10 concert my daughter Mitsuko Verdery, co-fonder of the Michiyaya Dance company decided to shoot a video with one of her core dancers Belinda Adam. The piece is Bryce's gorgeous solo guitar piece Portbou. I hope you enjoy this unusual video and the music itself. Portbou has quite a history and if you have a minute, google it and you will get more of a sense of the piece and our video.
I'm happy to say that the Canadian Publishing company Doberman-Yipan released my solo arrangement of Amazing Grace which can be heard on my CD Branches. The next work scheduled for publication is Tread Softly For You Tread on My Dreams.
In the last few weeks I have played at 3 different High Schools who all have wonderful guitar programs led by excellent and very giving guitar teachers. The first one was the Heritage High School in Brooklyn where classical guitarist James Miller leads the program, the next was Bayonne High School in New Jersey where the wonderful finger style player Vin Downes is the teacher and now I am residence at the Wagner High School where Jazz guitarist Joe Maniscalco is the teacher. Both at Bayonne and Wagner, I not only played but got to teach and work with the students in among other things group improvisations.
I will be playing and conducting Joe's students in a final concert on Wednesday June 6.
I must say with all of the world's troubles it has been a joy working with and playing for these students. They are lucky to have inspirational and devoted teachers. The students have all been a joy to play for and to interact with.It is once again a testimony to the importance of music in schools.
After Wagner I'm off to Simon Powis's fabulous class. Check the Where's Ben Page and if you are near come on by!!!
Until the next time!!
Peace, Love and guitars!!!
Last May, 50 years after the release of the ground breaking album Are You Experienced, my dear friend Ray White called me to see if I would do an interview discussing my thoughts on Jimi Hendrix.Talk to Ray about my love for Jimi? Are you kidding? I was in! Ray is one of America's most beloved music radio personalities. I listened to Ray on WNEW FM when I was teenager. As it turned out Ray's film crew consisted of two Parisians, Pierre Mitz and Eric Stockplus. We all had so much fun doing the interview that I suggested we do Purple Haze video here in town. A day later, on quite a foggy purple afternoon, we borrowed a friend's down town roof top complete with a pirate flag (!) and shot the video. It is both a tribute to Jimi Hendrix whose music deeply moves me 50 years later and a small tribute to the city he loved so. Ray, Eric, Pierre and I wish you Peace, love and more Jimi!
Kunstmuseum Auditorium, Bonn, Germany Oct 15, 2017
Like Building Blocks - guitar recital at the art museum.
It's hard to believe, but Thomas Offermann's concert series featuring classical guitarists has enriched Bonn's music scene for a quarter of a century. The beginnings at the Hardtberg cultural center, where the series took place for the first fourteen years, were congenially unconventional. For the past eleven years the series has taken place in the considerably plainer atmosphere of the auditorium at the art museum in Bonn.
The 137th master concert featured US guitarist and composer Benjamin Verdery (b 1955) - who is an icon, not only in the UNited States. It was not his first appearance in the series. And once again he effortlessly succeeded in erasing the borders that separate "serious" and "popular" music. His arrangement of Mozart's Adagio K 540 is poetic without being sentimental, and he pairs it with an incredibly vibrant "Tribute to Jimmy Hendrix".
Verdery's own, wonderfully imaginative and captivating compositions like "Prelude and Wedding Dance" is combined with Seymour Bernstein's "Searching for a Chorale" that was written for Verdery, using Bach's Chorale "Wie soll ich dich empfangen;" or, even more sophisticated in a technical sense, Ingram Marshall's "Soepa" a wonderful journey into the guitar sound in three movements, that leaves it up to the performer to arrange patterns like building blocks, or, assisted by the subtle use of electronic means, layer the guitar's different registers of sound on top of each other in an orgiastic manner.
Searching for a Chorale
Searching for a Chorale was written in November/December 2016 by my mentor Seymour Bernstein. I had asked Seymour to write a piece for me several years ago. During the intermission of a gorgeous recital by our mutual dear friend David Leisner, I turned to him and said, " so, are you going to write a piece for me or what?"
The next morning I received an email from Seymour. Here is a quote from that email:
"I am thinking of a piece for you. You know how Britten resolves his masterpiece into a Dowland prayer? Well I have a favorite Bach chorale to dissolve your piece into. I already began to play around with the chorale."
And so the journey began between composer and performer. After learning Searching.. I had many coaching sessions on the work similar to others I have had with Seymour for the past 30+ years. He at the piano and me next to him with guitar in hand. A bit of our silliness is captured in the first video clip we released announcing the work. At the core of Searching for a Chorale and it's interpretation lay two people's profound love and respect for music and friendship.
Searching for a Chorale
Composer: Seymour Bernstein
Guitarist: Benjamin Verdery
Recorded at Elm City Records Speak Easy Studios
Recording Producer: Solomon Silber
Recording Engineer : Evan Bakke
Video Filmed by Scott Johnson and Sean Hower of Polyphonic Ind. Maui HI
Video Editor: Mitsuko Verdery
Guitar: Garrett Lee
Special Mahalo to all at St. John's Episcopal Church, Kula, Maui HI for allowing to film in this magical church and setting.
Reflections on J.S. Bach’s Masterpiece the Chaconne
I first heard the Chaconne performed by the great Hungarian violinist Alexander Schneider on Thanksgiving Day 1968. It was a private performance for a group of my parents’ friends. I remember it as if it were yesterday.
Alexander Schneider and my parents had several mutual friends. Because of this, John and Suzanne Verdery decided to throw a massive Thanksgiving Day feast. It was known throughout the land that if Suzanne Verdery were preparing any meal, you’d want to be on the guest list. Such was her reputation as an extraordinary chef and a fabulously generous hostess.
Sasha, as friends called him, agreed to not only attend but to grace us with a performance of the Bach Chaconne.
About 25 family and friends were invited. Educators, visual artists, and authors including Arthur Miller and his photographer wife Inge Morath and Thomas Messer (director of the Guggenheim Museum) made up this Thanksgiving Day gathering.............
continue reading Reflections.......
The Making of the J.S. Bach Chaconne
An Interpretation Celebrating the Preservation of the
Earth, Ocean, and Sky
The making of the Chaconne recording and video wasn’t exactly easy, but it was completely worth every worry. There were some obstacles along the journey that I thought I’d share. Some of these obstacles—in fact, many—were of my own creation. But in the end, all was wonderful.
As I explained in my article Reflections on J.S. Bach’s Masterpiece - the Chaconne, I knew that I not only wanted to rerecord the Chaconne but that it would also serve as a soundtrack for a video protesting climate change.
From the moment this idea came to me, I was certain that this video should be shot at the Kaupo Aina Aloha Church grounds. It is one of the most spiritually charged locations I know.
At Kaupo, the Haleakala mountain falls into the ocean (Moana), and the sky (Wakea) looms above us. The ‘Iwa Birds fly over its vast canvas. Its raw power and beauty are palpable. The wind (Makani) races down from the mountain and whips up from the ocean’s waves. The sound of the wind and waves can be deafening...............................
read the full story wherein Ben writes of the recording and the video shoot...the latter something out of a Buster Keaton movie.
Here are some links related to climate change.
Peace, love guitars and a healthier planet!
ArTravel (Ep.2) Singing with Strings - A Musical Journey in Korea
One of the more extraordinary experiences of my life occurred this past summer when I was asked by Arirang TV to be featured in one of their episodes of ArTravel. For 8 days we traveled around South Korea visiting instrument makers, musicians (including the legendary Kayagum master Hywang Byungi), a stunning Buddhist Monastery and various gorgeous locations.
One of the highlights was actually playing with Hywang Byungi at his home as well as the young virtuoso Jung-ah Song on the edge of the Korean Sea. She actually had learned my piece Mobile! All of the footage was shot live.
Everyone I met was so warm, welcoming, interesting and passionate about their art and their country. To say I learned much is an understatement. More than that I was deeply moved.
The documentary is exquisitely filmed and edited. The crew were a total joy to work with. We had many laughs! When they wanted to do a retake of say me walking down a street I loved teasing them exclaiming:
"I gave it all in that take... I got nothin' left!" and I would continue with:
"get it right this time...I'm a major star and can't work like this!" They always laughed.
What you don't see is all the fabulous meals we had on the road. As a vegetarian, I love how they prepare and serve vegetables.
This was filmed in August and you can't imagine how hot and humid it was during all of the shoot. Yikes!
Be warned the documentary is about 53 minutes long. If you have a little extra time, it is my hope that you will sit back with some popcorn and take this journey with me.
Finally, huge gomabseubnida and a hug to my dear friends Jina and Jun, the fabulous crew and to Arirang TV in general for asking me to do this.
Until the next time,
Peace, love, Kayagums and guitars!
"Love and compassion are necessities not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive"
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
There can never be enough chants, prayers, songs, symphonies, poems, hopes and dreams for peace. I am one of the millions who believes every little bit of positive thought towards peace helps.
With all of the turmoil in our world I decided to re-record Chant For Peace changing the arrangement and instrumentation. At the out set, I asked hip hop artist Billy Dean Thomas and Chilean singer song writer Nano Stern to contribute their own lyric and vocal line. I remain exceedingly moved by their heart felt performances. In addition, I would like to thank Billy Dean Thomas for her video concept.
There are now several organizations run by people who are dedicating their lives to peace. Below are two of these organizations you may not be aware of. If you are so moved please donate any amount to these noble programs or some others of your choice.
Nano Stern's lyrics (English Translation):
A chant for peace
that silences so much cruelty
that sheds light on every town
and turns bitter into sweet
Let it distinguish no colors
this chant for peace...
May it be strong and able
to heal so much pain.
History of the Song:
I wrote Chant For Peace in the early 90's. It originally appeared on a CD entitled Ufonia. The marvelous singer Sanghamitra Chatterjee sang the lyric Peace For our Children Now in Hindi on that recording. The extraordinary drumming and musical contribution by Ufonia's hand drum virtuoso John Marshall was essential to the song.
Guitars used on this Video:
Jeff Traugott 8 string; Fender Jazz Bass and Fender Stratocaster
All Strings and Tuners: D'Addario
Peace, Love and Guitars
I am thrilled to announce my new CD released on Elm City Records featuring Yale composers past and present. Here are the two videos from the release. At Elm City Records you will find the complete story behind this project and how to order for your ever expanding CD collection.
Forever Peace, love and guitars!
16th ANNUAL MAUI GUITAR CLASS
Benjamin Verdery is excited to announce his 17th guitar class on the island of Maui in Hawaii from Tuesday, July 5 through Thursday, July 14, 2016. Joining him as guest teacher this year will be acclaimed guitarist and composer David Leisner, co-chair of the guitar department at the Manhattan School of Music. Joining again this year as guest ukulele teacher and ensemble assistant will be Hawaiian guitarist and ukulele player Ian O’Sullivan, currently on the faculty of the University of Hawaii.
For complete information and application procedure:
Benjamin Verdery Maui Class
MARTIN BRESNICK'S Joaquin is Dreaming
This is the third movement of Martin Bresnick's beautiful work Joaquin is Dreaming published by Carl Fisher. It will appear on my forthcoming CD entitled The Ben Verdery Guitar Project, On Vineyard Sound. The CD be will released digitally next month on Elm City Records. Special thanks to videographers Sean Michael Hower and Scott Johnson of Polyphonic Industries and video editor Mitsuko Verdery. It was recorded by Adam Abeshouse. The guitar used on the recording is by Greg Smallman. The guitar in the shoot is by Garrett Lee. All strings by D'Addario.
APRIL 2, 3, 2017 - MAUI CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
FEBRUARY 20 - yALE GUITAR EXTRAVAGANZA 2016
ll-day event offers concerts, talks, and master classes, featuring Yale alumni
Guitar Extravaganza 2016: Celebrating YSM Alumni will take place Saturday, February 20, 2016. The event, which is presented every two to three years at the Yale School of Music, offers a daylong immersion in all things guitar: concerts, workshops, demonstrations, and more.
The headline performer is classical guitarist Marc Teicholz, hailed by the Los Angeles Times as “both technically gifted and musical to the core.” A faculty member of the San Francisco Conservatory, Teicholz will perform a solo recital at 8 pm in Morse Recital Hall.
Other concert artists include Duo Ditirambo (viola and guitar) and Z.o.o. guitar duo, both of which will perform in a 5:30 pm concert. Earlier in the afternoon, guitarists Daniel Corr and Max Zuckerman will team up for a 2 pm recital of solo repertoire. Everyone in this group of performers is a graduate of the Yale School of Music.
BILLY & BEN release HOOCHIE COOCHIE MAN
Billy Dean Thomas and I so enjoyed our collaboration on Black Bach and Start Now that over the summer we decided to go back and record three more tracks. Combined with the other two, we concluded it would make a wonderfully eclectic 5 song EP.
The question then arose, what to do next? I thought we should record something that was the polar opposite of Black Bach and Start Now. The legendary Blues classic Hoochie Coochie Man came immediately to mind. Truth be told, the blues was introduced to me early in my musical development because I had older brothers, and I lived on the campus of the Wooster School which at the time was a boarding school for high school boys.
My brother Don in his teenage years was a great lover of the blues. He introduced me to all 3 Kings, (B.B., Albert, Freddy) Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Paul Butterfield and Muddy Waters among others.
I loved this music and still do. I love playing blues. Who doesn’t? I adored Muddy Waters from the moment I heard him. His recording Fathers and Sons was on constant rotation for months! In addition, I was lucky enough to see him perform at the Fillmore East. And yes - he sang Hoochie Coochie Man. Muddy made Hoochie famous in 1955 but it was actually written by one of the greatest Blues songwriters in history, Willie Dixon.
The idea also occurred to me because a few years back I had accompanied one of America’s foremost poets and educators, William Corbett. Bill read the lyrics of Hoochie Coochie Man and I played fragments of the iconic motive as an accompaniment. I loved that concert experience and it inspired me to think that Billy could similarly give Hoochie her own powerful reading.
I originally thought Billy would say the lyrics in her wonderful manner with her fabulous voice. But when we began our first rehearsal, she started rhyming her own lyrics to the song. I stopped playing and exclaimed.
“Billy, what the hell are you doing?” She replied that she was reading her own lyrics. She thought I wanted her to make up her own lyrics as she did in Black Bach. I was so fixated to the idea of Billy saying all of the original verses that it took me totally by surprise and was insistent that she do that. After a few tries at the original Willie Dixon verses. She said: “Can I just read what I wrote and see what you think?” She did and I flipped. It was her life story and much more. She was telling her blues. Hoochie, because of Billy’s lyrics, now took on a whole new meaning.
If a Blues song can be considered an evolutionary art form in the way Flamenco music is, then Billy and I are simply moving that form in our own direction. Since we had performed the other two pieces as a duo we thought we would do the same with Hoochie. I set out to make the guitar sound extremely full and resonant. I derived quite an unusual alternate tuning to achieve this.
I kept to the standard form of the song but added some dissonant as well as resonant harmonies in addition to a short phrase at the end of the chorus. The alternate tuning inspired me to take the solo and the accompaniment in a different direction than I would have had I remained in standard tuning.
We had just recorded Chant for Peace with drummer extraordinaire Jared Shonig. Originally Billy and I were going to record Hoochie as a duo but Jared’s playing was so spectacular on Chant and Billy’s song Dollar And A Dream that we urged him to play on Hoochie. He said he could literally only do one take as he had to get to another engagement. One take we did! I did however re-record my solo, which is unedited.
After the producer Dave Veslocki mixed it and sent it along, it was clear to Billy and me that we had to make a video. The idea of the video was completely Billy’s and the director’s Frankie Turiano. Billy modeled herself after the 1920’s blues singer Gladys Bently and the video concept came into focus once she found that character. To say we had a magical time shooting the video is an understatement. Billy and I are so grateful to all those family and friends who gave up their Sunday to make it happen. A huge thanks goes to Frankie and his wonderful production team who worked like veteran filmmakers throughout out the day.
I feel particularly grateful for the collaboration with Billy which in this case allowed me to pay a small homage to the many great blues players of my youth, most notably Hendrix, Beck and Clapton who have so inspired me all these years.
I hope you enjoy our rendition of the Hoochie as well as the video.
Peace , love, guitars and Hoochie Coochie Man!
Billy Dean Thomas: vocals and lyrics (after the first Willie Dixon verse)
Ben Verdery: guitar and arrangement
Hoochie Coochie Man is part of Billy and Ben’s upcoming EP, Hooks and Books
To find out more about Billy Dean Thomas go to: www.billydeanslist.com
To read about the genesis of the track got to: www.benjaminverdery.com
Billy and Ben want to thank Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters, Frankie Turiano and crew (!!) D’Addario strings, drummer Jared Shonig, Rob D’Addario for playing the drums in the shoot, Jack Vees for his guitar and amp, David Veslocki for producing and mixing the track and all of our family and friends for being part of it.
BACK IN THE STUDIO WITH BILLY DEAN
I'm still on cloud 9 from an exhilarating weekend of music making and collaboration. Billy Dean and I decided to go back into the studio and record three new tracks. We plan to release an EP containing Black Bach, Start Now and three new pieces in a couple of months. I’m thrilled to have drummer Jared Shonig and beat box/vocal percussionist Mark Martin joining our team of producer Dave Veslocki, engineer Chris Santalis, Billy and me.
92Y LAUNCHES NEW ON-DEMAND SERIES: GUITAR TALKS WITH BENJAMIN VERDERY
It is with great excitement that I write to you about the launching of Guitar Talks with Benjamin Verdery by the 92 Y and D’Addario. A few years back when I was asked to be Artistic Director of Art Of The Guitar at the 92Y, I suggested that they ask each artist if they would agree to do a live pre-concert interview with me. To my delight, many agreed and now a few years later we have ten interviews with such wonderful artists as Sergio Assad, David Russell, Pepe Romero, the LAGQ, Eliot Fisk and Paco Peña, Raphella Smits, Paul O’Dette, and 3 group interviews which include: Frederic Hand, David Leisner, Gyan Riley, Ricardo Cobo, David Tanenbaum, Rene Izquierdo, the Eden / Stell Duo , Raphaella Smits, Andrew York, Phillip Candelaria and Louis Trépanier, Scott Tennant and William Kanengiser.
I want to thank first all of these wonderful artists for their willingness to be interviewed prior to their concerts. In addition, I want to thank all the crew at the Y for the filming of each interview, the audience’s enthusiasm and finally to the Y and D’Addario for actually putting it out into the world.
My hope is that you all will enjoy hearing and seeing these great artists talk about their art and life as much as I did.
Following this initial launch the interviews will be posted individually each Thursday starting August 20.
As always! Peace, love and guitars!
Ben Verdery & Billy Dean
I'm over the moon to share these two new videos featuring duos with Hip Hop artist Billy Dean. They were recorded by David Veslocki and shot and edited by Mitsuko Verdery.
What an exhilarating and exciting journey it has been. You can read about my collaboration with Billy Dean at Transom: Colliding Stories-Musical Bridges-by Ben & Billy
Audio of Start Now and Black Bach available at Loudr.
Thanks for all the great comments and support so far!
Have the greatest day.