WHY GUITAR ORCHESTRA?
I have been thinking for a long time about the way we teach guitar and the
problem of "belonging" when it comes to playing in larger ensembles.
The lack of a continuous ensemble form and its negative effects are obvious.
Students who play flute or violin have their respective wind ensemble and
string orchestra. Why not try to create for guitar the same possibilities
that exist for other instruments?
How it began
The University was receptive to my idea of creating a guitar orchestra, and
funds were made available to buy instruments and to make several research
trips to, among other places, Japan. I was faced with the question of which
types of guitars I wanted to use in my orchestra. During the music trade show
in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1987, I had the pleasure of meeting guitar maker
Dieter Hopf. I discovered that his special guitars were first-rate and that
provided a basis to decide on what I needed. In the Spring of 1987, I bought
a set of guitars; soprano guitars, alto guitars, bass guitars and two types
contrabass guitar. Altogether, I purchased eight instruments by the various
makers: Hopf, Alhambra, Quiles and Yairi. In 1987 I started a children´s
orchestra of about 20 students between the ages of nine to twelve, as well
as an adult orchestra with eight students from the University. During that
time, I also made a trip to Gothenburg, Sweden, where Sven Berger and Satoko
Fujimoto introduced me to the Japanese type of guitar orchestra. Satoko has
played with Hiroki Niibori´s ensembles in Japan. Sven and Satoko shared
knowledge generously on such subjects as arranging for guitar orchestra, short-cuts
in transposing parts, etc.
I then visited my good friend and colleague, Bo Strömberg in Halmstad,
Sweden. He has worked for many years with larger guitar ensembles (standard
guitars) and was glad to share his knowledge with me. He gave me a lot of
good advice, and I also got to hear an inspiring rehearsal by Bo´s talented
In the autumn of 1988, I began a collaboration with the Framnäs School
Music Department, as well as the Municipal Music School in Piteå. We
were able to organise three orchestras working at different levels of ability.
The orchestra from the University together with students from Framnäs
grew to 16 members. We practised diligently and began giving concerts with
great success. We made two recordings for the National Radio of Sweden and
recorded our first track on CD, Gånglåt efter Hammare, arranged
by Sven Berger. Our first repertoire: Bach´s Brandenburg Concertos,
Vivaldi Concertos and a Concerto Grosso by Handel. In addition, there are
Dowland, Morley, arrangements of Swedish folk music, Latin-American and jazz
arrangements, as well as original music for guitar orchestra from Japan.
Picture of the University´s guitar orchestra, 1993
Guitar orchestra in Japan
Japan is the country with the most experience when it comes to guitar orchestra.
Hiroki Niibori started it all in the beginning of the 60s, and since that
time many different programmes around Japan have been developed to educate
guitarists, conductors and teachers. There are several professional orchestras
continually releasing albums, videos and performing several hundreds concerts
a year. Anthologies of original music and arrangements have also come out
through the years. Various guitar makers have become involved, and the types
of guitars used today have been developing through the years.
The trip to Japan
With Satoko´s help, I established contacts in Japan and made plans to
visit that country in order to dig deeper into a subject which began to interest
me more and more. In October, 1988 I visited Japan. Mr. Takishi Oguro, head
of Niibori Planning and publisher of the magazine Guitar Music, introduced
me to the maestro himself, Hiroki Niibori. I got to listen in on on different
rehearsals by very talented ensembles. I got to hear a fantastic concerts
by one of the professional orchestras.
At one of the guitar orchestra schools where I stayed, I was given time to
play and discuss guitar orchestra in a calm atmosphere. I am sure I was a
nuisance with all my questions. The students provided sake and some unusual
snacks, including roasted grasshoppers!One morning when I arrived to a rehearsal,
the hall was all set up with the orchestra in place, ready with a chair, Ramirez
guitar, and the music to Vivaldi´s Concerto in D major for me. Apparently
to be the soloist! I was flattered, and needless to say, very excited. I also
got to play alto cembalo guitar in a Concerto Grosso by Handel.
One day I had the opportunity to acquaint myself with the guitaron. It is
a fretless instrument which reminds one of a cello because the playing position
is the same. The guitaron, however, is played with a special pizzicato technique.
During my visit in Japan I met a lot of Professors, musicians and students,
and they did everything to make my stay pleasant.
At Home in Piteå
Based on the ideas from Japan I started to develop a Scandinavian type of
guitar orchestra. I made a lot of new arrangements and transcriptions for
guitar orchestra, now published in Music for guitar orchestra in 15 Volumes.
I have put together a compendium - only Swedish - on organising and other
various information on guitar orchestra. I have given several lectures and
courses, which have contributed to start a widespread activity of guitar orchestras
at different levels.I started Piteå Guitar Orchestra Festival in 1994,
the first festival in Scandinavia.
At the School of Music in Piteå, as well as other places, playing in
a guitar orchestra and conducting a guitar orchestra is a part of the obligatory
curriculum for all guitarists.At the moment I´m working with composers,
commissioning new original music for guitar ensemble/orchestra. These new
pieces will be published 2001/2002.