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27 September 2015

Classical guitarist injects creativity

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Music Review Promusica

Saturday, May 10, 2008 3:05 AM
By Barbara Zuck
For The Columbus Dispatch

Was that toe-tapping at last night’s ProMusica Chamber Orchestra concert?Those unfamiliar with the styleof Robert Michaels, a guitarist with a large stylistic vocabulary, may have been a bit surprised at what they heard and, in understated fashion, saw at the ProMusica’s annual gala season finale in the Southern Theatre. Michaels seemed to have such a strong impact on the audience — yes, especially for a classical guitarist — that the entire hall at times seemed to be on the verge of rocking and rolling.

Flamenco guitarists with classical chops are not typically what one would readily call “upbeat,” “high energy” and “contemporary,” but one has to haul out such descriptions in this case. Into genres that have been known to tiptoe over into the precious, as well as limited, repetitive and — dare we say it — boring, Michaels has injected a large dose of creativity. He has amassed an abundance of new music that builds logically on the instrument’s lofty traditions in ways that join the flamenco and the classical styles in a new, quite individual way.

Michaels’ compositions are tuneful, but his playing and his improvisations are upbeat, creative and refreshing. There is a tendency, yes, for the tunes to sometimes sound a bit generic, but the improvisations are nothing short of mind-boggling. Michaels allows his formidable technique to carry him off into fascinating new directions, and he could never be accused of just phoning it in.

An added attraction last night was Michaels’ daughter, Melanie Buttarazzi. A young flamenco dancer, she added a heel-clicking, spinning and swaying visual dimension to partner the companion qualities in the music. For its part, ProMusica, under the direction of Music Director Timothy Russell, sounded tight, balanced and precise in a repertoire that has a special kind of rhythmic elasticity and energy. On its own, ProMusica played several beautiful, familiar selections by Spanish composer Manuel de Falla.

ProMusica has turned its annual gala into an opportunity to stretch itself and its audience by inviting guest artists who have made a strong impact in fields allied to the classical. Not every hit has been a home run, and even ProMusica would have to agree that some of these experiments have worked better than others. But tenacity can be an admirable quality, and when it all comes together, as it did last night, the results seem worth the risk.

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