William Kanengiser and the Alexander String Quartet — British Invasion (Foghorn Classics)
“When I was in high school, I was in a rock band called Euphoria. We did all these covers. I had massive hair,” guitarist William Kanengiser says. “Even though I'm a classical guitarist, I have a background in rock, jazz, flamenco and world music. The whole vibe of this recording is something that comes naturally.”
That vibe is the British Invasion of the ‘60s and ‘70s in guitar quintet form, featuring Kanengiser, best known as a founding member of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, and the Alexander String Quartet.
Kanengiser joins the Alexander String in their first album, British Invasion. It features incredible pieces inspired by Led Zeppelin, Sting and the Beatles. Kanengiser and composer Ian Krouse talk about how this project came together.
How did the Led Zeppelin-inspired piece “Labyrinth” come about?
Krouse: “I am also a guitarist, although I stopped playing many years ago. Growing up, I was interested in rock music and the Beatles, the Stones and Jimi Hendrix. I played in bands and learned how to do folk fingerpicking, which was my gateway to classical music.
“I don't even remember how it started, but Bill and I were talking, and the idea of me writing a piece for the LAGQ based on a Led Zeppelin song came into view. We both thought, ‘Yeah, let's do this.’ I jumped right on it and wrote ‘Labyrinth.’ The original version was for four guitars.
“A few years ago, Bill called me and asked if I would consider making a new version of ‘Labyrinth’ for guitar and string quartet. The words were hardly out of your mouth when I said, ‘Absolutely.’”
Kanengiser: “Although it's a classical guitar, I strung a second guitar with specialized steel strings. I have steel strings on the trebles and play with a pick. I get to do a bottleneck slide solo in this open rock tuning.
“He writes a passacaglia in a baroque form. There's a 12-tone fugue on the subject. It's an intense piece. That's the highest level of composition. This is a crossover pop tune and a serious, amazing contemporary composition.”
Tell me about “Prims: Six Songs,” by Sting, and the composer who made it.
Kanengiser: “Dušan Bogdanović has been my dear friend for decades. Sting did a project quite a few years ago where he approached the music of John Dowland. He worked with lutist Edin Karamazov, who is good friends with Dušan. Edin commissioned Dušan to write these arrangements.
“There's this beautiful letter that Sting wrote to Dušan saying, ‘You took the broken fragments of my songs and turned them into a flight of nightingales.’”
How did the work of John Dowland end up on this recording?
Kanengiser: “He was like a rock star, the Jimmy Page of the Elizabethan age. I knew Ian had written this spectacular piece called ‘Music and Four Sharps,’ based on ‘Frog Galliard,’ by Dowland.
Krouse: “I've always enjoyed the thrill of music that picks you up and takes you somewhere else over many minutes. In both pieces, the goal was to unleash energy and passion. “
To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
William Kanengiser and the Alexander String Quartet — British Invasion (Amazon)
William Kanengiser and the Alexander String Quartet — British Invasion (Arkiv music)
William Kanengiser (official site)
Alexander String Quartet (official site)
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