Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion  Classical guitarist Valerie Hartzell plays a piece at Maria Allison's house Wednesday March 5, 2014 in Kenai, Alaska. Hartzell will be giving a solo concert Friday at the Christ Lutheran Church, 128 N Soldotna Ave., at 7:30 p.m. The program will include a mixture of classical and more contemporary pieces and tickets are $20 for general admission and $10 for students.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Classical guitarist Valerie Hartzell plays a piece at Maria Allison's house Wednesday March 5, 2014 in Kenai, Alaska. Hartzell will be giving a solo concert Friday at the Christ Lutheran Church, 128 N Soldotna Ave., at 7:30 p.m. The program will include a mixture of classical and more contemporary pieces and tickets are $20 for general admission and $10 for students.

Picking the classics

When classical guitarist Valerie Hartzell breaks a fingernail, it’s an emergency — especially if she’s on tour.

The sounds she pulls from the five nylon strings on her guitar depend on each carefully shaped and smoothly filed nail on her right hand.

“It’s like when an oboe player breaks a reed,” she said. “Oh god, I have to start all over.”

Fortunately, the longtime performer, teacher and newly-minted UK resident carries a ready supply of glue and fake nails, to avert disaster. “A few days ago I actually had to glue back on my third fingernail, it broke on the right hand” she said.

Hartzell will be on the Kenai Peninsula Wednesday, giving concerts at a few local schools, then Friday she’ll perform at 7:30 p.m. at Soldotna’s Christ Lutheran Church.

The show is sponsored by the Performing Arts Society and tickets are on sale, $20 dollars for general admission and $10 for students, in Soldotna at River City Books or Northcountry Fair and in Kenai at Already Read and Country Liquor.

Hartzell has played in Alaska before, though primarily she has given concerts in Anchorage, she has not played on the Kenai Peninsula.

“I played in Valdez … oddly enough there was a monsoon that night and I didn’t think anybody was going to come but it was jam-packed,” she said. “One of my first examples of Alaskans built tough.”

The show will be a mixture of the more meditative and calming pieces she says people tend to associate with classical guitar, and fast-paced music that will have the audience dancing in their seats.

“It’s not a boring instrument,” she said.

Neither is it confined to pieces written only for the guitar when in Hartzell’s capable hands.

The opening piece for the evening is an adaptation of the prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 — an iconic piece, typically performed on the cello.

Hartzell said she tried to arrange her piece without straying to far from the original.

“It’s a beautiful piece, like a prelude should be.”

From there, audience members will be taken on whirlwind tour of Paraguay with composer Agustin Barrios, a 20th century composer.

“His fast pieces are just gorgeous,” Hartzel said.

When she plays the Barrios piece, Hartzell curls herself around the guitar in a posture much more indicative of a classical cellist or a violinist, each break in a line of music is punctuated by a breath as she sways in rhythm with the song.

She has impeccable timing. As she sat in local musician Maria Allison’s studio Wednesday, Hartzell’s fingers flew cross the strings, coaxing sounds out of each string that handily showcased the depth of her technical knowledge.

A free-form piece, by American composer John Anthony Lennon should also expand what people traditionally expect from the guitar.

“It really bends. There are a lot of slides, harmonics. They’re going to hear the instrument a little bit differently than the traditional plucking strings with the right hand,” she said.

The world tour continues with Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, an impressionistic sonata by Mexican and French composer Manuel Ponce and finally a jazz, afro-cuban, classical and funk fusion piece by French Composer Roland Dyens. “I think audiences love that piece,” she said of the Dyens composition “Fuoco,” or “Fire.” “It’s very jazzy, you definitely tap your feet.”

Of all of the pieces in the show, Hartzell said the Dyens one was her favorite to play.

“I can be sick, I could be exhausted, I can just get to that piece and play it and it really lifts my spirits. It’s so much fun,” she said.

The show is designed to be balanced.

“A program can’t have all flow or all energy,” Hartzell said. “Your ear needs variation … not only with styles but also with tempo.”

Hartzell will have cds on sale during her concert, both her solo album “Ex Tenebris Lux” and the all-female trio Presti.

She is excited to bring classical guitar to the Kenai Peninsula and hopes audiences will come to appreciate the instrument for its unique sound.

“I’m hope that they will be so excited about having gone to a classical guitar concert that they’ll demand more classical guitar concerts,” she said. “It’s really important that audiences be exposed to different instruments. I know that classical guitar isn’t off the beaten path, but compared to the violin, cello or orchestra, I guess it is.”

 

Reach Rashah McChesney at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com

Picking the classics

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