Lezcano and Tripp Faculty Concert
By Jared Fairfield/ Contributor
Now that the COVID lockdowns and mandates have been lifted, the ability for composers and musicians to perform to physically present audiences is again possible. Of course, we have powerful technology that gives the ability for musicians to record and distribute their music to listeners through streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music; it is also possible and common for musicians to never perform for the majority of their listeners in-person. “Music” is nearly synonymous with “recorded audio”. This is such a commonplace fact of modern life that we often don’t consider it. This, coupled with the seemingly sudden injection of highly advanced AI into the public consciousness, presents an increasing number of strange problems. AI has the ability to compose music, replicate the voices of singers, write lyrics, etc. And this, we are told, is only the beginning. The impersonality of AI-generated music taking the place of human creation is a disturbing thought to some, and to others it seems like an impossibility. Many musicians were also afraid of the advent of recording technology a hundred or so years ago, and most would look back on the fear and smile at how quaint it seems. If used creatively and ethically, these advances may give the medium of digital audio entirely new potentials, to the degree that recorded music might become an entirely distinct artform from traditional music. In fact, this distinction may be necessary even if only to secure the integrity of music composed, performed, and heard in live in person and made by human hands.
In sharp contrast to all this, I attended the faculty concert on September 8th, which took place at the Osher School of Music, where Professor Jose Lezcano and Professor Krysia Tripp performed. Professor Lezcano is a twice Grammy-nominated Cuban-American guitarist and composer, and Professor Tripp is a flute player who has worked with a wide variety of well-known acts, from Luciano Pavarotti to Peter, Paul, and Mary. The majority of the works performed were composed by Professor Lezcano, with some exceptions such as Cello Suite No. 1 by Johannes Bach, adapted to be played on the guitar, and Maria (Gavota) by Francisco Tárrega, who is often called “the father of classical guitar”.
Professor Tripp performed on the Key West Suite, a piece composed by Professor Lezcano upon commission by the Amaral Duo, and was inspired by his time spent in Key West during a residency. The experience of the place was important to the composition. “I have vivid memories of the residency; my then wife and I stayed at the Mango-Tree House, and rode bikes all over town, including to the beach, Professor Lezcano told me. He explained the significant experience of the place and culture and their inspiration on each of the three movements, namely an extraordinarily long bridge called the Overseas Highway, the large Cuban immigrant population inhabiting the island, and a restaurant called Sloppy Joe’s that Ernest Hemingway used to frequent.
One of the works performed were the Four Etudes during Covid Times, which Professor Lezcano composed during the COVID lockdown in 2022. “I was living alone and teaching all my classes remotely at Keene State College and feeling isolated,” Professor Lezcano wrote to me, and explained that an “etude is an homage to a specific composer and I attempted to write something in their style”. These composers include Agustin Barrios, Bill Evans, Maurice Ravel, and Francisco Tárrega —all very different composers from different genres and time periods. Professor Lezcano also said that he dedicated the etudes to his applied guitar students in Keene state that year. He also sent me a video of the world premiere of these etudes during the lockdown period, where he performed the pieces in an empty auditorium. Although in the video Professor Lezcano says that he “suspects that they sound a little moody” because of the circumstances under which he wrote them, I found them to have a buoyancy as well. Maybe this is because I first heard them while sitting in an auditorium with many people, with some distance behind that period of isolation we collectively experienced.
Towards the end of the concert, low rumbling thunder began to be heard, and this increased the poignancy of the performance to me. It sounded as if the guitar were being carried by a massive cloud of sound, highlighting its vulnerable humanness. The thunder only grew louder as Professor Lezcano returned to the stage and performed an encore, and the thunderclaps mixed with the final applause.
The live concert with living performers and human listeners took place in a shared space, with our attention unified into the focal point of the music and our bodies participating in the ritualized customs of applause and bowing. The audience sat in reverential silence with phones turned off, while the performers, shaped to their instruments across time, space, and culture, brought forth the magic that unified us in that moment. The concert also took place in the natural environment surrounding it with overwhelming light and sound and rain, protected and preserved by walls and ceilings. When the concert was over, I walked out into the night as the thunder hit its peak of explosive sound and lightning illuminated the sky in purple flashes. I couldn’t help but feel that there was a significance to this storm marking the end of the concert, and I think the sense of significance was the significance itself. Music, especially when it is grounded in place and persons, has the power to bind the fleeting vulnerability of human experience in such a way that a sense of meaningfulness is inevitable, overflowing even to the impersonal chaos of the storm.