Album’s title: “Sketchbook of a Journey”. Sketchbook of a Journey (2015) Track-1: I. Port Seagull; T-2: II. Night at the sea With Stars: T-3: III. Mediterranean Reflections; T-4: IV. Winds of Andalucía; T-5: V. The Cloister of San Esteban; T-6: VI. The Garden of Dreams; T-7: VII. Returning; T-8: From a Chinese Waterfall (2011). Florentine Preludes (for solo guitar) (2004-2011) T-9: Prelude No. 1; T-10: Prelude No. 2; T-11: Prelude No. 3; T-12: Prelude No. 4; T-13: Prelude No. 5; T-14: Prelude No. 6; T-15: Prelude No. 7. Sonata for Harp and Guitar (2014) T-16: I. The Glass Vase with Butterflies; C-17: II. A Portrait of Parsifal; C-18: III. Chalice of Mystery; C-19: IV. Light Dark Light; C-20: V. Returning to Future´s Past. Vero Duo: Gretchen Chell Cover, harp; Miguel Bonachea, guitar. Music for harp and guitar by Anthony Sidney. Tracking engineer: Aaron Gandia. Mastering engineer: Christopher Willis; (1) Assistant engineers: Elliot Glen, Ry Kovalevich, Jay Jerkes. Harp Salvi Apollo 16885; Guitar Diego Valencia, Colombia, South America. Cover art: Boat with Blue Seals by Odilon Redon. Recorded at Phat Planet Studios, Orlando, FL., 2016
The work, the composer, and the interpreters
“Sketchbook of a Journey” was released on March 18, 2017. It is available online through CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby, Spotify, and other streaming services. The album contains the premier recording of four works by composer, concert artist, and instructor Anthony Sidney (1952), who was born in New York, studied music at the Conservatory of Florence, Italy, and Stage Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in the same city. The recording artists featured in the album are Gretchen Chell Cover, harp and Miguel Bonachea, guitar. Gretechen Chell Cover studied harp with recognized instructors Clementine White at the University of Florida, and Jeanne Chalifoux. Currently, she lives in Vero Beach Florida and performs as a freelance harpist. Miguel Bonachea is a classical guitarist and educator who has performed at major stages in Europe and Latin America, and has been a guest soloist of several symphony and chamber orchestras. He served for more than 20 years as a professor at universities in Cuba and Colombia.
When Miguel Bonachea moved to Vero Beach, FL, in 2012, a friend introduced him to Gretchen. When they were invited to play together for an event, they were so thrilled by the sonority of the duo that they decided to build up a repertoire with pieces they found pretty much at hand. Later, when they found a recording of Anthony Sidney’s From A Chinese Waterfall in YouTube, they contacted the composer to obtain its score. After some public performances, they wanted to do a recording. They commissioned a piece from Sidney that became Sonata for Harp and Guitar. They further commissioned a second piece by him that gave the title to the album, too: Sketchbook of a Journey. To complete the recording project, they asked to the composer pieces for solo guitar, and he suggested Florentine Preludes. (2)
A peaceful work
Sometimes, it happens that a piece of music or a work provides me a very a few words to characterize it. That, I have thought, could be due to two reasons: one, that I’m completely wrong about it; other, that the work is so compact on its own way that it does not allow divagations, that it is a total work with a solid unity from the beginning through the end. The latest is what I have experienced with the album “Sketchbook of a Journey”.
“Peaceful” was the first word provided to me from the whole listening of the disc. The metaphors that it suggests do not go around stormy episodes, they do not threaten with pain, wrath, or unrest because the melodies precisely rest, breath, and the harmonic sequences solve quietly or at least without ruptures that announce danger. The timbers –there are many, and they are suggestive- the melodies, and the harmonic thread bring me images that have their own genesis on the pieces’ titles. The metaphors that Sidney conceived begin with the title; they pose a riddle that the public can solve along the listening experience. For now, I am going to comment about just a few of them for each listener may enjoy the solution to the enigmas, create its own metaphors, images, and; therefore, get excited.
Night at Sea with Stars: I can feel the title and, as a suggestive text but not a programmatic one, build the ocean as a metaphor. Why? Because the composer, while making a fair use of his techniques of composition, employs melodies that undulate over the accompaniment in arpeggios that bring up an upper waving line into the speech. The harmonies rest, but as they are built over modal scales, they induce a sensation of controlled instability as that of a calm sea.
Mediterranean Reflections: The composer, by using a well-known melody, compels me to create images of a specific region in the crossroads of two continents with multiple cultures, diverse, but at the same time united by a simple song, a common lullaby to all Mediterranean countries. For some it can be Fray Santiago, for others Frère Jacques, they are diverse but essentially human.
Winds of Andalucía: To the wind, but it also refers to the musical airs and songs, to the signs that identify this region of Spain.
Returning: Here it is possible to feel the dance, perhaps from Ibero- American origin, zarabanda that may elicit images of wanted returns to the motherland, aesthetical and philosophical returning or rebirths, a come back to the basics, to the inner peace of the human being.
And, to reinforce my idea that Sidney is absolutely committed to his audience, I want to annotate that he brings in texts to the scores that serve as a guide, an aesthetic North to the interpreters. He understands that in order to achieve a better comprehension of his work, he may have the absolute complicity of the interpreter, who is at the same time, the very first listener of his music.
Thus, in the score of From a Chinese Waterfall, dedicated to Adriano and Sabina, he writes: “This is the musical story of a watercolor painting of a Chinese Waterfall that enclosed in a bottle in China traveled by rivers and seas, and was found by two lovers on the coasts of Ireland many years later” Referring to Sonata for Harp and Guitar, dedicated to Gretchen Cover and Miguel Bonachea, he emailed to the harpist: “…as a flower that is hidden and suddenly stands out and shows off its beauty. Looking away would be impossible.” (3).
In the Florentine Preludes which are dedicated to significant persons in the composer’s life, he states phrases such as “Because I’ve seen your smiling eyes” (No. 1), “San Gersolè” (No. 2), and “Short Stories of Florence” (no. 4) among others.
At the end, all of this has been possible to be built because of the perfect inflections on the delivering of the speech, the precision that both artists exhibit, the complicity in the pulse, in the agogics, in the game with the colors, and the suggestive brushstrokes -impressionistic? - announced since you see the cover art. And, over all –in this digital world in which the technological hurdle is placed higher every time- it has been possible also because of a perfect recording and sound engineering work that allows the instruments to sound in a splendid way.
Cuban composer and guitarist Eduardo Martin told me that perhaps one day he and other composers whom he had never had contact with would be catalogued in a same box because they had written works marked by similarities, a reflection of him that I find very assertive. Up to the moment, I know the music of at least three guitarist composers: Roland Dyens, Eduardo Martin, and Anthony Sidney who share a style (Renaissance? Postmodern?, Global Postmodernism?) that has its foundations in signs clearly intelligible which make our imagination to hover over themes, harmonies and timbers that are decipherable by means of the taste and the reason that passes throughout those different musics of the world. That is a style in which the composers make use of sonorities from the past to be enjoyed in the present, to bring excitement to their contemporaries.
What I listen to in this album reassures me. This is a magnificent work and a very respectable letter of introduction to Vero Duo and Anthony Sidney. (4)
(1) Christopher Willis has been awarded 4 Grammys. He serves as a sound engineer for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Lyric Opera of Chicago.
(2) Taken from an email from Miguel Bonachea to the author.
(3) Idem as on note 2.
(4) Translated from the original in Spanish by Miguel Bonachea.