Vida Guitar Quartet proves a crossover Fab Four

By Richard Yates

The Vida Quitar Quartet performed Sunday at St. Martha's Church in Miami Shores.

The Vida Guitar Quartet performed Sunday at St. Martha’s Church in Miami Shores.

The Beatles were not the only British foursome to make a splash in the U.S. on February 9th.

Also hailing from England, the Vida Guitar Quartet played Sunday’s concert in Miami Shores 50 years to the day from when the Beatles were unveiled to the American public on The Ed Sullivan Show. While the quartet’s arrangements of gems by Gershwin and de Falla did not have exactly have the international celebrity of the “Fab Four,” the electrifying Vida Quartet gave them a run for their money.

The Sunday afternoon concert, which was part of the St. Martha-Yamaha Concert Series, took place at St. Martha’s Church in Miami Shores. The capacity audience took every opportunity to praise the quartet—standing, shouting, and clapping with gusto.

As we learned from the quartet members’ remarks, the ensemble prides itself on playing arrangements of orchestral pieces. Vida Quartet member Mark Ashford arranged the first piece, “The Miller’s Dance,” which was originally scored by Manuel de Falla as orchestral music for the pantomime ballet The Three-Cornered Hat.

Ashford also arranged the second piece, a set of dances by English composer Sir Malcolm Arnold. While the English Dances Suite No. 2 do not contain any actual folk melodies, Arnold’s themes are meant to capture the spirit of the English countryside.

Perhaps the most ambitious undertaking of the program was an arrangement of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for the quartet by one of its members, Chris Stell. The ensemble played a more capricious, rhythmically driving rendition than the lyrical version of the Rhapsody for piano and orchestra. The all-guitar arrangement attempted a new framework for the vitality and creativity of Gershwin’s music. Yet, for the valiant effort, finessing the pianistic turns of melody seemed at times to be a bit cumbersome.

Two movements were selected from de Falla’s ballet El Amor Brujo (Love, the Magician)— the very polished sounding “Pantomima” and the bewitching “Danza ritual del fuego” (Ritual Fire Dance).

Concluding were the klezmer-influenced Yiddish Dances by the Welsh composer Adam Gorb (arranged by Mark Eden), and a Carmen Suite, from the opera by Georges Bizet. This fiery hit parade of Bizet’s most well-loved themes was the only arrangement of Sunday’s concert that was not written by a member of the ensemble. The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet’s William Kanengiser can take the credit for this lively escapade that leant itself to the Vida’s penchant for comedy.

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Mon Feb 10, 2014
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