Classical Guitar editor Blair Jackson reviews Marcin Dylla’s April 2015 performance at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco.
The final concert in the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts’ spring guitar series (presented in association with San Francisco Performances) found the gifted Polish guitarist Marcin Dylla presenting an extraordinary and completely compelling program that will be long remembered by the capacity crowd that filled every pew and chair in the stunningly beautiful and acoustically magnificent St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. The Ticket Gods had fortuitously placed me in the front row, which afforded me a remarkably intimate view of Dylla’s intense performing style. This is a player who clearly feels every note—his face just inches away from his guitar neck, at times he seemed to be simultaneously willing his fingers to action as they flew up and down the frets and awestruck by what they produced—rarely have I seen a musician so locked-in to each moment.
And that was even more impressive when you consider that the first piece he played, Manuel Ponce’s expansive Variations sur Folia de España et Fugue (1931), is a little over 22 minutes long and encompasses such an astounding range of tempos and feelings. It is at once classic and modern, unpredictable yet coherent, and Dylla negotiated every turn and stylistic shift with complete confidence and commitment. He had clearly internalized every note.
The other piece in the first half of the concert was The Sonata of Loneliness by contemporary Latvian composer Peteris Vasks. In Dylla’s spoken introduction, he noted, “Loneliness provokes us to ask the most difficult existential questions about the meanings and reasons of our lives.” He then proceeded to communicate some of that uncertainly, sadness, and quiet reflection in Vasks’ contemplative piece. He was particularly effective in a passage that contrasted a solemn melody and sparkling harmonics.
After the intermission, Dylla opened with a nod to more traditional guitar music—the early 19th-century Austrian composer Anton Diabelli’s stately, technically challenging, but always sonorous Sonatina No. 3 in F major. Next up was Polish composer Alexandre Tansman’s 1969 Hommage à Chopin (written for Andrés Segovia). Though Chopin and Diabelli were contemporaries, Tansman’s moody homage definitely has a 20th-century feel in parts. I particularly enjoyed the dark contours of the middle “Nocturne” section.
The concluding piece, Roberto Sierra’s Sonata para Guitarra, was a jolt back to true modernity, full of abstraction, stop-start blasts, unusual scale flights, considerable dissonance—and lovely lyricism, as well. This was probably my least favorite piece in the concert, though I certainly can’t fault Dylla in any way for his execution of this difficult, frequently discordant piece. Just not my cup of tea.
When Dylla returned to the stage for a heartily demanded encore, he struck an almost apologetic tone for playing so much adventurous music, noting that he feels obligated to support modern composers. “But I completely understand that maybe 60 percent of you are very conservative . . . ,” he said with a chuckle, “[so] I’m going to be like a perfect politician and play Tárrega’s ‘Capricho Arabe.’”
He did, and it was pure lyrical bliss, the perfect cap on a spectacular night.