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Bach’s guitar man: Recital series begins 16th season

Guitarist Nicolŏ Spera. (Courtesy of University of Colorado Boulder)
Unitarian Universalist events begin Friday

Check out Nicolò Spera on Facebook and you’ll find lots of invitations to guitar festivals and places all over the world, plus pictures of friends, including Scott Hagler, students, family and people who love music. Especially guitar music. Especially transcriptions of famous works originally composed for other instruments – violin or cello. As a classical guitarist, Spera has made it his business to transcribe works from the 17th and 18th centuries by the likes of Bach and Heinrich Biber.

At 7 p.m. Friday, Spera opens the Unitarian Universalist Recital Series. It’s the16th season for this unusual chamber music event founded and directed by Marilyn Garst. Leading with someone of Spera’s stature is a musical coup. Born in and educated in Italy, Spera holds degrees from two Italian conservatories in Bolzano and Siena. He later completed a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Colorado Boulder. In 2011, he was invited to join that faculty and is now an associate professor of classical guitar. He performs solo recitals, concerti with orchestra and also with choirs for some of the oldest musical series in Europe, from the United Kingdom to Finland. For a long time, his goal has been to expand the guitar repertoire, so he commissions new work and records.

For his UU recital, Spera will play three big works, opening with Biber’s “Passacaglia,” originally composed for solo violin around 1676.

If you go

WHAT: UUFD Recital Series: Guitarist Nicolò Spera.

WHEN: 7 Friday (Oct. 6).

WHERE: Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 419 San Juan Drive.

ADMISSION: Season tickets $70 adults, $30 students and children. Individual tickets $20/$8. Cash or checks.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit durangouu.org/events/recital-series or contact Marilyn Garst by phoen at 385-8668 or email mmgarst1940@gmail.com.

“Nicolò has transposed it from G minor to F minor to accommodate the tuning and resonances of the 10-string guitar,” Garst said. “It’s often claimed to be the most impressive unaccompanied violin work before Bach’s sonatas and preludes.”

At the center of the recital, Spera will play a contemporary work inspired by much earlier music. A suite composed by Giacomo Susani, a contemporary Italian composer and colleague of Spera’s, has been reconceived from 1305. The original work commemorated the opening of Padua’s Scrovegni Chapel in the early 14th century. It was played at the dedication of the chapel’s new frescoes by Giotto (active 1300-1337). Yes, that’s the major early Renaissance painter who covered the walls of the Arena Chapel, its more common name in art history books.

Fresco from the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, by Giotto di Bodone, c. 1304-5. (Courtesy)

Then and now in its new musical iteration, “Suite per la Cappella degli Scrovegni,” the music includes eight movements for the seven vices and virtues plus one for good measure to completes a spiritual journey. Sounds confusing, so it is hoped Spera, a seasoned lecturer, will enlighten us.

The recital will conclude with Bach’s monumental “Ciaccona” (Chaconne). Composed for solo violin sometime between 1718 and 1720, the work concludes Bach’s Second Partita in D Minor. As Garst quoted Albert Schweitzer on its stature: “out of a single theme Bach conjures up the whole world.” So important and so moving is the “Ciaconna” that it has been arranged for many instruments: flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, cello, marimba and, thanks to Spera, the 10-string guitar.

The series has remaining three concerts: Nov. 17, a piano duo with Garst and Cynthia Bauhof-Williams; Feb. 16, saxophonist Justin Hubbard; and April 26, mezzo-soprano Drea Pressley.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.