My most significant and treasured relationship with guitar ensembles is with the Ensamble de Guitarras de Chile (EGCH), an ensemble I founded in 2006 in my native Chile with a grant awarded from the Fondo Nacional para el Desarrollo Cultural y las Artes (FONDART) of the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes. Now, over a decade later, I serve as EGCH’s Artistic Director with Eugenio González as Music Director and principal soloist and Patricio Araya as second soloist.
For many years it was my desire to form an ensemble that could bring together a mix of college students and a few highly regarded professionals to explore a more innovative music for a large group of guitars. Finally, with good fortune and support from FONDART, Ensamble de Guitarras de Chile to life. With EGCH, I have had the extraordinary opportunity to work with more than 60 of the most prominent young guitarists in Chile and to experiment, arrange, compose, and premiere more than 20 works that composers from Chile, Argentina, France, Taiwan, United States, Puerto Rico, and Greece have written specifically for the EGCH. Through the commitment and energy that each EGCH member has put into this ensemble, I have been able to advance my mission to expand the repertoire and endless possibilities this medium allows.
In fact, between 2007 and 2009, the Ensamble de Guitarras de Chile was able to bring to fruition two of my more significant works for guitar ensemble, both inspired by the epic historic poem “La Arauncana,” written in the mid-16th century by the Spanish nobleman and soldier Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga relates the courageous insurrection of the Mapuche:
Although I moved to the United States in 2012, the Ensamble de Guitarras de Chile continues performing, premiering new music, and has recorded three albums to date, each one offering a new perspective on guitar repertoire. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has delayed the premiere of three new pieces that American composers Ronald Pearl, Andrew Simpson, and Garry Eister have written especially for EGCH with David Tanenbaum conducting the ensemble. Stay tuned as these premieres are rescheduled.
The success of the Ensamble de Guitarras de Chile has been due to the seemingly endless dedication of Eugenio Gonzalez, a founding member, and Patricio Araya, who joined EGCH in 2010. Not only are they two wonderful guitarists, they are great friends.
From early on, the EGCH has had the good fortune to collaborate with some of the masters. In 2007, we were honored to pay tribute to Leo Brouwer during his first visit to Chile with a performance of his piece, Acerca del Cielo, el Aire y la Sonrisa.
In 2009, Alex Ethier, the founder of the Canadian guitar ensemble Forestare—probably one of the few professional guitar ensembles in the world today—and former conductor Pascal Cote, came to Chile to work with the EGCH. Forestare gave two performances of a program of works by Canadian composers only. This collaboration sparked the idea for Forestare to record Arauco: por fuerte, principal y ponderosa… upon their return to Canada. The 45-minute suite was recorded in 2010 and released on the Atma Classique label in 2012.
More recently, in 2018, we invited Ben Verdery to Chile to coach the Ensamble de Guitarras de Chile (his piece GIVE was included in our third CD, Recinto de la Piedra). It was inspiring to watch how engaged all the members were when working with this incredible musician and how much fun was being had.
In 2018 I received my first opportunity to write for very young players through a commission from the Connecticut Guitar Festival. Inspired by minimal and experimental post-rock bands, I titled this piece Anthem for a Never-Ending Song for its extended, repetitive orientation (which turns out to be ideal for young players!). It was premiered by students of the Suzuki Guitar Academy in Westport, CT as the grand finale of the 2019 Connecticut Guitar Festival.
Can a musical composition save the oceans? What a great idea to compose a piece to encourage young people to be environmentally responsible by engaging them through music. I was fortunate to be tapped by Miroslav Lončar, guitarist, teacher, and huge advocate for the classical guitar, as one of two composers to receive commissions funded from the Wolf Trap Foundation for the guitar students at Park View High School in Virginia. response.restoration, my piece, was written for an ensemble of 40 young players and premiered in March 2019. This was an honor and a humbling experience to encourage young people to be environmentally responsible. Olga Amelkina-Vera was the other commissioned composer for this project. It was a great pleasure to work alongside her and hear her fabulous Ode to Thalassa, a clear example that composers today are successfully writing for guitar ensemble.
Current projects include the long-anticipated release of the recording of my 40-minute suite featuring electric guitar, La Otra Voz, written for David Tanenbaum and the San Francisco Conservatory Guitar Ensemble. In addition, David Veslocki has commissioned a work for his fantastic young players at the Connecticut Suzuki Guitar Academy. Stay tuned as these come to full fruition.