The website of classical guitarist David Tanenbaum

The Upcoming GFA Festival

 With the Guitar Foundation of America coming to San Francisco for the first time in less than a month now, I wanted to tell the story of my becoming the co-artistic director. Not long after the San Francisco Conservatory‘s move to the Civic Center became a reality, several GFA leaders approached me about making an application to host the festival at the new facility. I have directed two festivals before – the 2nd American Classical Guitar Congress in Winston Salem, North Carolina and the Lou Harrison 80th birthday Festival at the Conservatory – and I knew that taking the whole thing on with my schedule would be impossible.

Meanwhile, Richard Patterson, an entrepreneur par excellence and the host of the longest running and certainly biggest classical guitar series in the country (, had been wanting to take a year off from touring during his son’s last year of high school and do something in town. So he decided to make a proposal as Convention director, and he approached me right away about being co-Artistic Director. That sounded better, as I could realize some artistic ideas but not be overwhelmed by work. I thought about this for a few days and told Richard that I would do it if I could have the freedom to explore a few ideas. The GFA is understandably wanting a good sense of rotation in their artists, and wants none of the major, evening players to repeat within a year or two. That matched my idea. As wonderful as the top players and ensembles are, I told Richard that I wanted no brand names, but rather to invite players who had really impressed me on my travels, especially those that are not so known here. Richard said “Great, you just blew my whole budget on one sentence: you want high travel expenses to bring these people from great distances and few ticket sales, since they are not known here. What else?” “Well, I’d like to go crazy, just do my thing, with one concert.” Richard and the GFA ultimately agreed with all this, and he and I spent the next few months making our joint ideas a reality.


So what did we end up with? Well, the festival will open with the Croatian guitarist Zoran Dukic, an absolute guitar star in Europe, but a player who is not so well known here because he hasn’t made a solo CD in over a decade (he just recorded some Tedesco for Naxos, but it’s not out yet.) I’ve known Zoran for years, but got to know him and his playing well when we toured Europe with the World Guitar Ensemble. Included in Zoran’s program will be a Sonata that Gyan Riley wrote for him. If anyone is in that neighborhood, I recommended Zoran also for an Aranjuez at the Bear Valley festival August 3rd- I knew I would be too ensconced in rehearsals to do that one.


Pablo Marquez was also in the first incarnation of the World Guitar Ensemble, and sitting next to him in the group, I was floored by his musicianship and guitar playing. Pablo has since signed the first ever guitar contract with ECM New Series, Keith Jarrett‘s label, and he began that relationship with a wonderful all-Narvaez disc.


That evening the great lutenist Hopkinson Smith plays a recital. Why a lutenist? Well, my experience of guitar festivals is that they are simply too much. The lute is our ancestor, he will play music we play, we get some variety and he is perhaps the world’s greatest lutenist. ‘Nuff said?


Thibault Cauvin and Boris Gaquere, who share a concert Thursday, are two of the finest young European players out there. Alieksey Vianna is my former student, so you can accuse me of nepotism. But he certainly deserves this afternoon recital, having won a basketful of competitions. More importantly, his program proposal was irresistible. He is in the middle of a 2 CD recording project of works for guitar and string quartet, by composers such as Sergio Assad, Egberto Gismonti, Ralph Towner and many others, and he raised the money to bring the Brazilian String Quartet all the way here for this concert.


I met Shin-Ichi Fukuda in Japan unexpectedly at a sad event- a concert memorial to  mark the one year anniversary of the death of Toru Takemitsu. I had not heard of Shin-Ichi before, but the organizers had asked us to play a duo, Bad Boy. It was immediately clear that Shin-Ichi was one bad boy on the guitar, and I resolved then that if I ever had the chance to invite him to San Francisco, I would. He plays Thursday night. 


After which, with apologies to Steve Aron, we will have our one late -night event, a Guitarrada at the Hotel Whitcomb ballroom. Guitarrada is a term you may not know. The Guitarrada concept is based on the term coined by Pepe Romero’s father, Celedonio Romero, to describe what is basically a hang out session with a few guitar players, a scholar or two, and some historical guitars. This was first brought into a public forum, in collaboration with the San Francisco Conservatory, by John Harris, the guitar collector and producer of the PBS Romero documentary. We have now hosted three wildly popular Guitarrada’s at the Conservatory, with Pepe, Richard Brune, myself, Marc Teicholz and guitars collected and loaned by John Harris (see his article on collecting in the most recent Soundboard.) This Guitarrada will be independently produced by John Harris, and hosted by Marc Teicholz and me. The players, each of whom will have three guitars from around the same time, will all be Conservatory students: Tony Kakamakov, Brian Dowdy, Elliot Simpson, Hunter Mah and Brendan Evans. Check out the guitars (subject to change) they will be playing:


Guitars for the Guitarrada

  • Group 1
    • Torres, Hauser I, M. Ramirez
  • Group II
    • Hauser II, Bouchet, Fleta        
  • Group 3
    •  J Ramirez, Rubio, Romanillos
  • Group 4
    • Rodriquez, Freiderich, Rodriquez/Romero 
  • Group 5
    • Dammann. Smallman, Connor


That brings us, bleary-eyed, to Friday. As the competition heats up into the semi-finals that day, don’t miss the Duo Melis concert at 4 (which I’ll have to miss because of a rehearsal.) I heard them just two summers ago at the Nurtingen Festival. I was amazed to see a young duo headlining an evening concert at that major festival, but more amazed to hear them. The ensemble was precise, the musicianship truly compelling. 


And Friday night brings my “go crazy” concert at Herbst Theater. Titled Friday Night From San Francisco after the famous CD, it presents 21st century creations from and to-do-with the very fertile Bay Area guitar/composition scene. Rather than saying more, I’ll just list here the program and a blurb I wrote.




Trois Bresiliens a Saint Paul (2007) * Sergio Assad (b. 1952)

La Naif

La Joyeuse

La reveur

Rencontre en Tricastin


Conservatory Guitar Ensemble

Marc Teicholz, Antony Kakamakov, Brendan Evans, Paul Psarras, Brian Dowdy, Elliot Simpson, Zachary Selissen, Jose Rodriguez, Jonathan Mendle, Travis Andrews

David Tanenbaum, conductor



from Aires de Sefarad, Vol. 1 (2004) for Duo46 – Jorge Liderman (1956-2008)


1. Por la tu puerta yo pasi (I came in through the door)

2. Alci mis ojos al cielo (My eyes looked to the sky)

3. Cinco años ya va a hazer (It would have been five years)

4. Morena me llaman (They call me Morena)

9. Un lunes por la mañana (On a Monday morning)

10. Nani, nani (Sleep, sleep)

11. Mama, yo no tengo visto (Mother, I haven’t seen him)

12. Entre las huertas paseando (Walking between the fields)

17. Avre tu puerta cerrada (Open your closed door)

18. Avre este abajour (Open your window)

19. Adarleto, mi Andarleto (Andarleto, my Andarleto)


Duo 46

Beth Ilana Schneider-Gould, violin

Matt Gould, guitar




Moonshine Sonata (2005) * Terry Riley (b. 1935)

David Tanenbaum, National Steel Guitar

Terry Riley, keyboards




Echo Park (2008) ** Alex de Grassi (b. 1952)


Two Awakenings and a Double Lullaby  (2006) Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960)


The Salutation

The Light Gatherer

Double Lullaby


Anja Strauss, soprano

Aaron Jay Kernis, piano

David Tanenbaum, guitar

Beth Ilana Schneider-Gould, violin


Y Bolanzero (2001) Terry Riley


David Tanenbaum, Gyan Riley, Marc Teicholz, Matt Gould, guitars

Alex de Grassi, steel string guitar

Ryan Brown and Zoran Dukic, bass



* = U.S. premiere

** = World premiere



This concert celebrates the Bay Area’s musical riches in both guitar playing and composition with a program of new works from the 21st century. The concert begins and ends with guitar ensemble. The Conservatory’s esteemed Guitar Ensemble opens with the U.S. premiere of Three Brasiliens in Saint Paul by Sergio Assad to celebrate Sergio’s relocation to the Bay Area in August, and to welcome him to the Conservatory. Jorge Liderman, whose life ended tragically early this year, will be commemorated by Duo 46 (guitar and violin) in a selection from the beautiful sefardic airs he wrote for them. Terry Riley, the acknowledged founder of minimalism, makes an appearance on keyboards in the U.S. premiere of “Moonshine Sonata”, which he wrote for his 70th birthday tour of Japan. He will be joined by David Tanenbaum on a Just Intonation National Steel guitar that was invented by Riley’s friend, the Bay Area’s cherished Lou Harrison, for that composer’s last completed piece. After intermission, steel string master Alex de Grassi represents the acoustic/fingertsyle movement that was founded here with the premiere of a solo written especially for the festival, while Pulitzer Prize winner Aaron Jay Kernis plays piano in his set of songs that were commissioned to open the new concert hall at the Conservatory. The program ends with an ensemble of players from the festival performing Terry Riley’s Y Bolanzero.


The remaining concerts? Well, the great Pavel Steidl, perhaps the most physical guitar player I know, a player so compelling he makes you forget everything you do know. Two maverick Americans on Sunday afternoon, Gyan Riley and Michael Nicolella, the terrific Belgian Rafaella Smits on Saturday, the guitar star Xuefei Yang Sunday and the finals of the competition, not to be missed, where one of the 80 competitors emerges with the first prize and the GFA tour. I hope to see you at the festival.