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Dance and Music Reviews : Guitarist Yamashita in Southland Debut

In its pyrotechnical display, at Royce Hall on Friday night, the unique talent of Japanese guitarist Kazuhito Yamashita (in Southland debut) raised a nagging question: Is the 28-year-old Nagasaki native a genuine virtuoso or simply a novel sideshow?

Yamashita plays exceptionally loud, exaggerates phrasing and at times rushes tempos to the point of frenzy. While performing, he stands, rests his cheek on the guitar, lifts the instrument off his knees and moves his right arm with the force of a karate chop.

Yet with eyes closed, the listener hears a stunning technique. It is not always polished, and sometimes musicality is sacrificed for showing off. But undoubtedly Yamashita’s raw talent and individual style are captivating.

Predictably, his overpowering transcription of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 comes off more as an eccentric composition by Yamashita than a performance of Dvorak’s music. Extended techniques abound as the orchestral part is reduced to fit the obvious limitations of six strings.

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But Yamashita’s fiery technique makes it a marvel. Even if versatility of expression isn’t his gift, the piece works as an uncompromising etude for the instrument.

His transcription of Bach’s Sonata No. 3 for Unaccompanied Violin was less showy although still performed with uncharacteristic fervor. Other works by Britten and Sor were equally breathtaking, but revealed his limitations as an interpreter of different styles.


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