Classical guitarists are real-life Wolverines, said Adam Levin, an internationally acclaimed classical guitarist who will be performing with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra this weekend.
“We have really hard fingernails!” Levin said with a laugh. “Our fingernails are basically like having five picks. They allow for a lot of dexterity, speed, and control. But I was not blessed with the strongest nails. So, I have to reinforce them with acrylic, which is a powdery substance, and super glue.”
Levin’s performance with the orchestra will be the fifth in a series of concerts livedstreamed from Skyview Concert Hall into living rooms around the globe.
A native of Chicago, Levin started playing guitar when he was very young, and he can blame it all on his dad.
“My principal inspiration started with my father, who is a guitar aficionado,” Levin said. “He has played guitar his entire life. He’s done blues, jazz, fingerstyle and classical. He taught my sister also. He would even get us up at 5 o’clock in the morning to practice. Early morning is a good time to learn because your brain can absorb a lot of information.”
Levin then studied classical guitar at Northwestern University, where earned a bachelor’s degree in music performance, psychology and pre-med. He continued his studies with Eliot Fisk at the New England Conservatory, receiving a master’s in guitar performance.
Accompanied by the Vancouver musicians, Levin will play the “Caprichos No. 1” by Leonardo Balada, a Spanish composer. After emigrating to the United States, Balada became a naturalized citizen and has been teaching since 1970 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
“Balada’s music represents the fusion, perfect amalgamation of new world and old world,” Levin said. “It’s innately Spanish yet has Balada’s unique compositional voice. The folkloric-imbued, melodic lines shine high while he is dancing around with his own compositional voice.”
Levin will also take the spotlight alone to perform “Fantasia-Sevillana” by Joaquin Turina, a Spanish composer of iconic music for classical guitar, including works for Andres Segovia.
“The Turina piece will provide a nice complement and contrast to the Balada piece,” Levin said. “It’s a Sevillana, which is the democratic, national dance of Spain. It’s a dance that unites everybody, which is very relevant today, because we live in a time of dissonance. You see this beautiful marriage between two distinct artistic styles. One is flamenco and the other is impressionism. You could imagine being at a bullfight while also being in an art museum in Madrid looking at a Monet painting.”
On the podium for the concert will be Francesco Lecce-Chong. A native of Boulder, Colo., Lecce-Chong graduated from the Mannes College of Music and the Curtis Institute of Music and is a recipient of the Solti Foundation Award.
Concurrently the music director of the Eugene Symphony and the Santa Rose Symphony, Lecce-Chong is a champion of new music. In Vancouver, he has programmed Jesse Montgomery’s “Strum,” a stunning work that has made her name well-known among contemporary composers.
“Montgomery is a sensational string player, and you get her deep understanding and virtuosity on the violin,” Lecce-Chong said. “I was a violist back in the day, and when I first looked at ‘Strum’ there were times that I wondered how is that even going to work. But when you see it happening, it all comes together because it is a very physical thing. Sometimes ‘Strum’ looks like guitar music. You strum the instrument like a guitar, which coolly ties it to the pieces Adam Levin will play.”
Another work that Lecce-Chong will introduce to Vancouver audiences is the “Concerto for String Orchestra” by Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz.
“A lot of Bacewicz’s music was composed during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw,” Lecce-Chong said. “She was a single parent raising her daughter. She held a secret concert series, trying to support her musician colleagues in the city. She wrote this amazing, uplifting music — not what you would expect. She had this vibrancy and drive not to be shut down.”
Lecce-Chong has been itching to do Bacewicz’s orchestral concerto for a long time and sees the link between it and Mozart’s Divertimento No. 1 in D Major, which the orchestra will also perform.
“Bacewicz was a legendary violinist who could write music in a way that shows off the strings,” he explained. “Some of her music has a neoclassical side, and that side pairs well with Mozart’s Divertimento No. 1 in D Major, which is in the same key. They are different pieces but they both have this cheekiness and virtuosity in them.”