AT UCI TONIGHT : MUSICIAN SEES REVIVAL OF THE LUTE
The recent rash of “authentic” early-music performance groups has spawned a revived interest in the lute, according to Stuart Fox.
The musician, who appears in recital on lute and guitar at 8 tonight at UC Irvine, proudly points out that he is no Johnny-come-lately to that bulky, bent-neck, multistringed contraption that most of us know more from old paintings than modern concert halls.
“Lute players like me were inspired by Julian Bream in the ‘60s,” Fox, 43, said. “But when I was studying at USC (he graduated in 1960), there wasn’t even a guitar department, let alone a lute teacher.”
Times have changed. “Nowadays,” Fox said, “lute players are really growing in number. In fact, there are many who devote themselves to the lute alone.”
Fox, who lives in Fillmore in Ventura County, came to the lute through the guitar--which is not unusual. He came to the guitar through the clarinet.
“I was studying clarinet at USC when I discovered the guitar. I thought it was fascinating that you could play Bach on the guitar. You certainly couldn’t on the clarinet. I was soon sucked in. I never cared that much for the clarinet, anyway. As an orchestral instrument, it forced me to become too dependent on other players.”
Choosing to go it alone, Fox took up private studies with noted guitarists Angel and Pepe Romero. In the mid-1960s he was awarded a Fulbright to continue his education in Spain. In the course of his studies, the vast literature of Renaissance and baroque music opened up to him.
That’s where the lute came in.
“Back in the 16th Century, the lute was the principal harmony instrument,” Fox said. “It had its own tablature and, unlike the harpsichord, could easily play in a variety of keys. Since I was learning all these early pieces on the guitar, it seemed logical that I should play them on the proper instrument.”
Learning the lute, Fox said, required some resourcefulness. “I was left to my own devices. There was no one to teach me.” As was the case with Bream, Fox simply adapted his guitar technique (a free right hand, utilizing all the fingers).
“Now,” Fox said, “with all the research that’s been done, we know that players then often used a pick. So, the proper way to play it, really, is with the little finger anchored to the bridge.”
At his Irvine recital, Fox will use both the Renaissance and baroque lute. The differences between the instruments are subtle and complex, and will be explained by Fox at the performance.
“I enjoy talking to my audiences,” Fox, who serves on the faculty at CalArts, said. “I like my concerts to be informal. Chatting helps to stress the intimacy of the music. The guitar and lute are inherently intimate.”
After the intermission, Fox will switch to the guitar, playing works written by Falla and Ponce in Paris in the 1920s “when it was a Mecca for artists. I like to have little themes like that when I put a program together.” Also on the guitar half is a contemporary piece, “Guitar Music (Bottom of the Iceberg)” by Uruguayan composer Sergio Cervetti.
Fox is unconcerned about an audience’s fear of the new and unknown. “If a good piece of music is well-performed, it will work. I trust people’s ears. Besides, I plan to talk about the pieces as well, before I play them.
“I think this sort of thing helps an audience and a performer. I can make contact, and they’re more likely to like what I do. I think it would help contemporary music to have more of a connection with its audience.
“The same with early music.”