Austin Classical Guitar Society presents the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet
William Kanengiser, one of the founding members of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, has been many places as a classical guitarist. But the one he will probably never live down is “Crossroads,” the movie.
The 1986 story about a guitar prodigy is a brilliant bit of guitar history, and Kanengiser was the man behind the curtain, so to speak; he worked as a guitar double.
Of course Austin’s love of B-movies runs deep. So when the Guitar Foundation of America met in Austin in 2010, it only made sense to treat the audience to a screening of “Crossroads.”
But not to be outdone, the film was also given the Master Pancake treatment, mercilessly spoofed by the comedy troupe, as Kanengiser says, “with about a thousand people watching.”
Apparently Kanengiser doesn’t hold a grudge, because the LAGQ is coming through Austin again on Saturday, to do what they do best, play an eclectic concert for the Austin Classical Guitar Society, pulling from every square inch of the guitar repertoire.
The history of the guitar may be young, but that means top performers must cast a wider net. In LAGQ’s case, that means composing new music, arranging old classics for the guitar, or scouring folk music from the rest of the world.
“We had a real fertile period there of about ten years ago where we became really fascinated with world music,” Kanengiser says from his California home.
Indonesian gamelan, folk tunes from Chile and Brazil, whatever they could find. “The guitar is a sort of chameleon,” he says. “What we try to do is show the range of style, period, expression and sound that the guitar quartet is capable of.”
They’re “also trying to distract people from the one weakness of the guitar repertoire,” he adds. “We don’t have a Beethoven cycle.”
For this concert, he says, “there’s also a healthy dose of traditional classical music that we’ve arranged.” Works like Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella,” and Manuel de Falla’s flamenca inspired “El Amor Brujo.”
“An argument can be made that the de Falla piece that we’re going to play sounds better on guitar than it does from an orchestra,” Kanengiser says.
They’ll also throw in some Coltrane and Miles Davis, just to keep you on your toes.
It’s the kind of polished set list that results from 33 years of touring behind a catalogue of recordings that includes a 2005 Grammy.
And it’s a long way from when the quartet’s founding members showed up at the University of Southern Carolina as pilgrims seeking instruction from the famous Spanish guitarist Pepe Romero. For Kanengiser, once he finished his degree, his career took an immediate leg up: USC offered him a teaching job, one he still holds today. This is the kind of thing that just doesn’t happen to most people.
“Some of my classmates became my students,” he says. “(But) they were cool about it. We’re still good friends.”
And how have things changed since then?
“I guess the hotels have improved,” Kanengiser says.
In the early days, the quartet toured rural Mexico, playing mostly junior high schools, community houses and old age homes.
“It was 48 short concerts in 5 weeks. It was our baptism by fire, as it were,” he says. “We figured if we didn’t break up after that tour, we would stay together.”
They passed those crossroads a long time ago.
Los Angeles Guitar Quartet