Daniel Bolshoy: What You Missed While at Hawksley Workman
Adam Schipper, The Quill.ca
A story sits behind every piece of music, and any good performer is also an equally good storyteller.
On February 24, Daniel Bolshoy, a Russian-born, Israeli-raised Canadian and renowned classical guitarist gave more than just a good performance. Through his phenomenal concert, the first professional classical guitar recital at Brandon University in eight years, he succeeded in every aspect as both a musician and narrator.
A guitar instructor at Concordia University, a veteran of some of Canada’s most prestigious venues, and a broadcasting regular on CBC Radio among many other achievements, Bolshoy is regularly praised for engaging the audience between pieces with biographies to introduce composers, and more importantly, the story behind the piece itself, which Bolshoy believes is just as important as the music.
He had no problem with excellently proving this point; during the first half, prior to his rendition of Agustin Barrios Mangoré’s “Julia Florida”, Bolshoy told the story of how it was not a favourite among Barrios’ wife. Supposedly, Julia was a beautiful young woman who took lessons from Barrios in his hometown in Paraguay, and he was completely smitten by her, and so composed for her a lovely lullaby piece. When his wife asked him who Julia was, he told her he wrote it for their niece, also named Julia, after her consecration. He said she was a “flowering Julie”, and hence the title, “Julia Florida”.
The expressiveness of Bolshoy’s recounting of a flirtatious composer goes hand-in-hand with the expressiveness of his style; it has an aggressive, multi-layered quality, and one could close their eyes and easily imagine more than one player onstage. Indeed, he is no slouch around his instrument. The performance was endowed with an engrossing quality that not even the performer could escape. At particular points in the performance, Bolshoy, in deep concentration, had his nose practically against the fret board, watching his hands alongside the entire audience. If he choked on any notes, I certainly didn’t notice. He seemed to breathe in time with the music, and his guitar breathed along with him. He swayed in the melody. Also, the kind of tonal language Bolshoy expressed was impressive; he showed an uncanny intimacy with his instrument. For instance, he was able to change tunings seemingly by only counting the number of turns of the guitar’s tuning pegs, and not actually listening to the changing tone.
Another highlight of the evening included Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude, “Fugue and Allegro” (BWV 998). Bolshoy introduced it with saying, “You’d think with a name like Bach on the program I wouldn’t have anything to say about it,” which wasn’t quite the case; the piece was originally written for the lute, but not being able to find a player skillful enough to perform the piece, he had a lute-harpsichord hybrid (called a “Lautenwerck”) built so that he could play it himself. It simply went to show that for Bolshoy, musical dynamics run deeper than notes and time signatures. I can only hope that this is the first of many classical guitar performances to come to Brandon, especially with players of this calibre. It is also safe to say that Daniel Bolshoy is welcome back to Brandon University to play at any time.