Courtesy of Paul Galbraith

Paul Galbraith adopted the eight-string guitar in part so he could perform Romantic-era works.

Innovative guitarist Paul Galbraith at Folsom's Three Stages

Published: Friday, Mar. 1, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 9TICKET
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 3, 2013 - 2:56 pm

Every so often a musician comes along who takes a conceptual leap with an instrument, without an inkling that an evolution is under way.

One of those is classical guitarist Paul Galbraith.

It doesn't take long to glean what the evolution is when Galbraith performs: As Galbraith plays his classical guitar, he cradles it almost vertically. At first glance it looks as if he is playing a cello.

It's an upright position that has become Galbraith's trademark. An endpin at the bottom of his guitar helps balance and anchor it much the way a cello is anchored. In turn, the endpin is anchored to a resonance box.

If that were not unexpected enough, Galbraith likes to perform on the not-often-seen eight-string classical guitar – two more strings than the standard classical instrument.

It is known as the "Brahms guitar" – it allows Galbraith to arrange and tackle works of Romantic-era composers.

Local audiences will get to experience the charms of Galbraith's innovations when he appears at the Three Stages performing arts complex at Folsom Lake College on Saturday and Sunday.

Galbraith's program includes his arrangements of J.S. Bach's Lute Suite No. 3 in G minor, Anton Webern's Variations, Opus 27, and Albeniz's "España." Galbraith will also perform Manuel Ponce's Prelude and 20 Variations with Fugue on "La Folia de España."

The Scottish-born Galbraith, 48, began studying the classical guitar at age 11. However, he did not begin to play it in the upright position until he had reached his 20s.

It was a gradual evolution. At first, it was the comfort of playing while sitting on the floor that spurred the new position, he said.

"I preferred sitting on the floor to using chairs at my student flat," he said. "That happened to be the way I could sit with the guitar – without having to anchor it in any way with my arm. The legs did that for me."

Over a period of three years, the angle of the neck became more and more vertical, he said.

"It was then that I decided to use a cellist's endpin, and get myself a decent chair to sit on," he said.

In short, Galbraith has popularized the eight-string guitar. The instrument allows him to arrange works for classical guitar in a way not possible on the standard six-string.

However, without an influx of new works written for the eight-string, it will be a long time before the instrument is seen as other than an anomaly.

"We all want to see the development of a more substantial repertoire for the guitar, which is something that the eight-string guitar I play can help open up," Galbraith said.

"A guitarist playing a guitar with seven, eight or more strings will have access to more repertoire than with a standard guitar," said Daniel Roest, president of the Sacramento Guitar Society, the organization that is bringing Galbraith to Three Stages.

"From lute transcriptions to contemporary compositions, a much wider pitch range is available on these instruments, both to the artist and the audience," Roest said.

It seems innovation is almost a given for guitarists and composers of Galbraith's generation.

This is evident locally, with the Davis-based Matthew Grasso carving out a niche performing on the extended seven-string guitar.

Further afield are instrumentalists like James Kline, who has taken an innovative approach by performing on the 11-string arch-guitar.

It remains to be seen whether such musicians will remain the exception and not the rule, said Scott Cmiel, a member of the guitar faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

"The guitar has developed a tradition and repertoire that very much favors the six-string model," said Cmiel. "Galbraith's eight-string instrument has not influenced many players to follow his example beyond his immediate collaborators and students."

However, Roest believes Galbraith has already had an influence.

"Galbraith has demonstrated a ceaseless pursuit of his musical vision, to the point of significantly altering the instrument with the Brahms guitar design," Roest said. "To musicians, that's very inspiring. He's been successful in performing many transcriptions of repertoire unworkable on the standard guitar."

One thing is certain: Galbraith did not set out to make big changes with the classical guitar.

"I didn't change my playing style and instrument in order to revolutionize the guitar world," he said. "In fact, I dislike the idea of forcing one's ideas on others."

However, he is aware that a new generation of guitarists may someday cite him as an influence.

"It's quite amazing to me how many guitarists – also from different styles – are doing similar things to me," Galbraith said. "Some are doing so with a similar posture, some with a similar guitar, some with both."

PAUL GALBRAITH

When: 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Recital Hall, Three Stages Performing Arts Center, Folsom Lake College, Folsom

Tickets: $15-$44

Information: (916) 608-6888; https://www.threestages.net

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