—In the early 1960s, at the request of the legendary Presti-Lagoya Duo, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco composed his first work for two guitars, the Sonatina Canonica, op 196 (1961). He went on to write three more: Les Guitares Bien Tempérées op. 199 (1962), the Concerto for two Guitars and Orchestra, op. 201 (1962), and, after Ida Presti’s untimely death in 1967, he composed the Fuga Elegiaca in her memory. In 1967 he also began work on the Appunti op.210, an ambitious project dedicated to young guitarists. Conceived as a four-volume collection of solo guitar pieces based on the fundamentals of modern guitar music, only the first two books were completed before the composer’s death in 1968. On their their new recording, Appunti (Contrastes), the Arizona-based duo of José Luis Puerta and Alfredo Vázquez explore some of these late guitar works. The title of their CD reflects the heart of the project: transcriptions for two guitars by the late Prof. David Grimes of ten short pieces from the second volume of the Appunti, which Mario had based on dances of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Duo kindly agreed to tell us more about themselves and the realization of their recording project.
Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco interviewed the Puerta-Vázquez Duo in October 2022.
Tell us about your duo: your musical backgrounds, how you met, and how long you have been performing together.
We met while studying at the University of Arizona over a decade ago. During that time, we collaborated on different ensembles, guitar orchestras and other music-related projects, one of them being the Tucson Guitar Quartet (2019). Alfredo started classical guitar at Maryvale High School at a program that was focused on guitar ensemble. Alfredo holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona and a master’s degree from Oklahoma City University. He is the Regional director for Lead Guitar, and associate faculty at Cochise College. José Luis started studying the guitar at the Escuela Libre de Música in San Juan Puerto Rico. Followed by the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico, and doctorate degree at the University of Arizona where he currently serves as a faculty member. The duo was created during the pandemic in the Fall of 2020, when concerts got canceled and we needed to have social distance. We live very near to each other, and that facilitated rehearsing in the backyard with a long table between us, and so the duo was formed.
Why did you decide to dedicate your recording project entirely to Mario’s music?
The theme for the recording project really happened by chance. After going over some duo music, I (Alfredo) remember saying, “We should read some of The Well-Tempered Guitar” and that sparked the idea for the Appunti arrangements. We both agreed that it would be great to record a video or two of these lovely dances; a few months later we were in the recording studio at the Haskell Recording Studio at the University of Arizona and decided to record all the arrangements plus two more pieces: Fuga Elegiaca and Sonatina Canonica. We always admired Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music, and we were excited to share his music by recording this unique set of pieces.
What stands out for you about this music?
For me (Alfredo) Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s use of counterpoint is truly remarkable in his music. He clearly was inspired by the music of Bach and Scarlatti. We particularly enjoy the programmatic nature of his music.
How did you learn about Prof. David Grimes’ arrangements of the Appunti, and why did you think it was important to make them the centerpiece of your recording?
One of the members of our quartet, Michael Nigro, studied with David Grimes. He played a few of the dances with David in the past. When Michael moved to Tucson from California, he shared the Appunti arrangements with us. After reading through the pieces and instantly falling in love with them, we quickly decided that these pieces need to be heard. They have never been recorded before (to our knowledge ) in this setting. Tedesco’s music on occasion has needed to be adjusted when writing for solo guitar. Some parts can be extremely challenging when performed on one guitar. Arranging them for two guitars really allows the true character of the individual dances. The tempo of each dance can be respected when played for two guitars, which was Grimes’s intention. Grimes described them as a “setting of two guitars”. He wanted to be as loyal as possible to Tedesco’s musical ideas.
During the time you were studying and recording these works, what emotions did you feel?
Studying the scores and going through the recording process, we really felt like explorers. An explorer that really discovered a hidden gem that deserves to be shared with the world. Appunti takes you through a journey of early music dances. Tedesco presents these older forms through a 20th-century lens.
What particularly touched or surprised you about this music?
For me (Alfredo) what surprised me the most is the fact of how long it took me to find these pieces. It was refreshing to hear these dances in a modern context. Castelnuovo-Tedesco takes the forms of these genres and presents them with modern harmonies.
Alfredo and José Luis, congratulations on all the success you are having with the CD, and thank you so much for sharing your insights with us.
Watch the Puerta Vazquez Duo perform in these videos: