Though members of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet are well aware that almost everyone has seen the guitar played before, they've spent the last 31 years entertaining audiences around the world by playing the instrument in an unparalleled way.
The Grammy-winning ensemble will showcase their talents for the local audience when they perform live at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Schwab Auditorium in University Park. Tickets for the event are on sale and moving quickly.
William Kanengiser, one of the founding members of the quartet, said the guitar or some type of strummed or plucked instrument exists in almost every musical genre.
The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet poses for a photo. Members of the group are: (from left) John Dearman, Matthew Greif, William Kanengiser and Scott Tennant.
"We like to think that the guitar is the ultimate popular instrument," he said during a phone interview from his L.A. home before the group left for this short tour.
"So the guitar is something that everyone recognizes, and what we do is take a sort of classical music sensibility and we apply it to this chameleon-like instrument."
The program the quartet will perform at Penn State includes everything from classical to jazz to traditional Spanish and African music. Kanengiser said they like to do this to show the different sounds, textures and colors they can create using just their four guitars.
If you go
What: Los Angeles Guitar Quartet
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Schwab Auditorium, University Park
Details: Tickets are $40 for adults, $32 for those 18 and younger and $15 for University Park students. They can be purchased by calling 863-0255 or online at www.cpa.psu.edu/tickets.
"What we like to do is present a really wide variety of music and show how the guitar can really cross boundaries and make all kinds of music feel very at home," Kanengiser said.
With the classical guitar's name of origin being the "Spanish" guitar, Kanengiser said playing that style of music is what most people would expect. To help meet these expectations, the group will play a suite from "Carmen" by Georges Bizet.
"[The opera] has some of the most famous Spanish melodies ever written, even though it was written by a French composer," Kanengiser said.
The quartet will also play the flamenco-style "El Amor Brujo" by Manuel de Falla, a set of jazz pieces by Miles Davis and John Coltrane and a Cuban work that Kanengiser said "imitates the sound of a rain storm."
"It's a very atmospheric piece that sort of pulls you into observing nature in a musical way," he added.
Not much of the music that the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet performs was originally written for their instruments. Kanengiser said he alone has arranged more than 40 pieces over the years, and other members of the quartet have contributed to this task.
"We couldn't just walk into a library and pull master works off the shelf like if we were a string quartet," he said. "With four guitars, we had to sort of create our own repertoire."
Aside from live performance, the members of the quartet also work as instructors for different institutions or through private lessons. Kanengiser teaches at his alma mater, University of Southern California, where he went to study with his "guitar guru," Pepe Romero.
"He was like a magnet that drew great players in the '70s to L.A.," Kanengiser said.
Passing on the techniques and traditions of classical guitar is something the quartet feels very strongly about, Kanengiser said, but that's not to say that all of their students are classical guitar players. In fact, they've given lessons to everyone from Andy Summers of The Police to a guitarist for the metal band Megadeth.
"You'll find that a lot, that the guys in the rock, jazz and other fields who play the guitar have a lot of respect for classical guitarists and really enjoy the sound of it and the technique of it," Kanengiser said. "They're not as separate as you might think."
Laura Sullivan, marketing director for the Center for the Performing Arts, said the night before their performance, the quartet will work with members of the Penn State Guitar Club, which is comprised of both classical guitar students and rock guitarists.
"This gives [the students] a chance to learn from these guys, who are absolutely incredible," Sullivan said.
Anyone interested in the guitar will enjoy the concert and respect the musicians on stage, Sullivan said, adding that the quartet's ability to cross genres adds to their appeal.
And for the last performance of the season, Sullivan said the setting in Schwab Auditorium should be both intimate and exciting for both the players and the audience members.
"They have a real connection with each other that's reflected in the way they play," she said. "I think everyone will feel that if they're in the audience."
Kanengiser said the band's live performances should be a "pretty loose and fun experience," which they hope will be both sharing and emotional between them and the audience. And because they have been both colleagues and friends for so long, Kanengiser added that the bond between the members of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet should be palpable on stage, as well.
"Some people say our greatest accomplishment is that we've stayed together for 31 years," Kanengiser said.
"Even though we're a professional tour group now and we tour and record together, we're buddies. We share a real love and appreciation for the classical guitar and the tradition of guitar ensemble."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.