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Guitar quartet brings old, new music to Sheldon

The Minneapolis Guitar Quartet will perform an eclectic program of original works and arrangements at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Sheldon Theatre. Photo by Leslie Shank

Original music and their own arrangements of classical works with an international flair will be highlights of a Valentine's Day concert featuring the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet.

The foursome will perform at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Sheldon Theatre. It will be the group's Red Wing debut.

"We very much look forward to that," said Joseph Hagedorn, who was a founding member when the quartet formed in 1986.

The original four all were associated with the University of Minnesota, he said — three were still students. Shortly after graduating, he came to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where he continues to teach guitar-related classes including one for beginners.

At UWRF he also has two-, three- and four-member guitar ensembles and he teaches one-on-one lessons locally.

Each of the four current members of the quartet brings a unique skill and perspective. Two are composers, and he has done most of the arranging for the past 30-plus years. However, Hagedorn said, "It's kind of a group effort. Everyone has input into (a number) when we are finalizing it."

Sometimes, he added, he tests out new pieces with UWRF students, getting their input as they learn the music together before he takes it to the quartet.

The other members of the foursome are Serbian-born Maja Radovanlija, an international solo and chamber musician and member of the U of M music faculty; Benjamin Kunkel, performer, advocate of new music and faculty member at Century College and St. Joseph's School of Music; and Wade Oden, an international music and new works composer who directs the guitar program at Normandale Community College.

New music

The guitar quartet is an unusual type of ensemble, Hagedorn said. "There never was such a thing until around the 1960s," so no music was written for the guitar quartet before that time.

The Romeros, a father and three sons from Spain, pioneered the format after emigrating to the United States.

As a result of that short history, "To get a good variety of music, guitar quartets have always arranged music," Hagedorn said.

In addition, "We have commissioned a lot of music from new composers including Ian Krause and dozens of others," he added, noting that a Krause number is on the program for the Sheldon concert.

The quartet commissioned Krause, who lives in Los Angeles, to compose "Star Waves," a fusion of rock and classical music based on a song by British pop/rock musician Nick Drake.

Radovanlija will have two songs on the program. "Both pieces are characteristic of Balkan folk music," Hagedorn said, adding that they have an unusual 5-4 time signature.

Also featured will be music by Argentinian composers Piazzolla and Ginastera, J.S. Bach and Japanese jazz pianist Hiromi.

The quartet has five CDs and is wrapping up a new recording that includes several of the selections they'll be performing in Red Wing, Hagedorn said. CDs will be available at the Sheldon.

Collaborations

They are continually working on new projects. In addition to the Red Wing show, they have also been performing "Music of Love and the Stars." Written for the quartet, the 20-minute piece is performed with a choir and has been popular on college campuses.

"We have some new pieces coming up this year," Hagedorn added, including music for guitar quartet with flute and for quartet with solo singer.

The Minneapolis ensemble also will make its first trip to Germany this summer to perform and conduct classes at the weeklong Iserlohn Guitar Festival.

They have toured in the U.S., Asia and Europe, performing music from many parts of the world and entering into unexpected collaborations including Finnish folk music, flamenco dance music, and the music of a Chinese pipa master.

In addition, the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet has been heard on the nationally syndicated radio show Saint Paul Sunday, NPR's Performance Today and Twin Cities Public Television's "Minnesota Original."

Saint Paul Sunday described their music as "just about good enough to eat," and composer/performer Daniel Bernard Roumain called the quartet "ambassadors of sound, style and substance."

According to the Sheldon, "With their extraordinary abilities, MGQ's virtuosic performances offer beautifully distinct voicing, interwoven clarity of lines, and laser-like purity," which they combine with "engaging stage presence and good humor."

Tickets to the concert are $20-25. A child under 14 will be admitted free with a paid adult admission. Visit the box office, call 651-388-8700 or go online to www.sheldontheatre.org.

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