Video Pick of the Week: Ben Verdery Plays ‘Joaquin is Sleeping, Joaquin is Dreaming’ (Plus, ‘Black Bach’)
These are heady times for Benjamin Verdery. Long regarded as one of the finest players and most adventurous arrangers in the classical guitar world, he recently celebrated his 60th birthday, and he is also being feted for his 30th anniversary at Yale University, where he is a professor and chairman of the Guitar Department. A new album, joining the dozens he’s been part of through the years (classical and not-), is on the immediate horizon, as well: On Vineyard Sound consists entirely of music by composers who are on the faculty at Yale (including himself).
And that project is the source of this week’s Video Pick, “Joaquin is Sleeping, Joaquin is Dreaming.” Verdery notes, “This video is the last movement of Martin Bresnick’s three-movement work called Joaquin is Dreaming, published by Carl Fisher. The poetry and beauty of this piece compelled me to make a video of it on the island of Maui, where I was performing last April. The entire work is the opening piece on my new CD, The Ben Verdery Guitar Project, On Vineyard Sound which is scheduled to be released on June 12 on Elm City Records. The guitar used on the recording is by Greg Smallman. The guitar in the video shoot is by Garrett Lee. All strings by D’Addario.” Bresnick is perhaps best known for his chamber works, but he also written film scores and ventured into many other musical areas.
The current issue of Classical Guitar (Summer 2016) includes a fascinating interview with Verdery by one of his former Yale students, Christopher Mallett, a successful guitarist/teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the article, Verdery discusses the origins of On Vineyard Sound and also talks about some of the fascinating outside-the-box collaborations he’s been involved with recently, including one with a beatbox artist named Mark Martin, and another with a young rapper named Billy Dean Thomas. The latter project has been particularly controversial—it features Verdery playing the “Allegro” from Bach’s BWV 998 (originally written for clavier) while young Billy Dean unspools a compelling rap.
“In knew it was going to raise eyebrows,” Verdery says in the CG interview. “But I thought what [Billy Dean] wrote was too beautiful and needed to be heard. I thought high school guitar teachers might play it for their students who have no idea what the classical guitar is, or Bach, but do know what hip-hop is, and by showing them the video, some bridges might be built. In a time of such racial divides, we thought it might help bring some students together, create a dialog about music, cultures. If nothing else, they might flip seeing an old, gray-haired white guy playing with an African-American hip-hop artist.”
Probably not for all tastes (neither is Bach), but it’s worth a listen for sure!