Road to the Sun
November 19, 2017: Los Angeles Guitar Quartet
Guitar is an interesting instrument. Across virtually all genres, it remains an ongoing research project – in the best possible sense. It is an instrument that in general is somewhat undefined by any single approach. There are seemingly infinite ways to deploy the potential of what it offers. And in multiples, those potentials grow exponentially.
A few years back, I was flattered to have one of my compositions included in the LAGQ’s Grammy winning CD Guitar Heroes. Not long after that the idea came up that I might someday write something new for them. The idea of writing a guitar quartet inspired by the talents of the LAGQ has been simmering somewhere in the back of my mind ever since. The thought of really addressing the instrument in a more formal way under the auspices of what this quartet has come to embody, not to mention the sheer, almost overwhelming individual skills of the four players, was something I really wanted to do. It was just a matter of finding the time I knew that I would need to do it.
Luckily for me, I am very busy as a bandleader and I feel privileged to be able to record and tour almost constantly with my own groups. But after a particularly active year in 2014 where I did more than 150 concerts around the world, I decided, for the first time, to take a year off from the road in 2015. Hopefully, I thought, I could get caught up with a few things. Kind of on my list was this lingering idea of finally writing something for the LAGQ. Near the end of the year, I saw a window opening up where I would have a few weeks that I might dedicate to this. With the approval of the guys and a few really useful tips from all of them, I jumped in, hoping to write a concert piece of 7 to 9 minutes. Two weeks later, I found myself with a nearly 30 minute, 6 movement treatise on the aforementioned potentials of what can happen in a multi-guitar format, blazingly inspired by the thought of hearing these four incredible guitarists play these notes. The piece just literally poured out.
In truth, as much as I am identified as being a guitarist myself, I don’t really spend a whole lot of time thinking about the instrument in a specific way. It has always been an almost inadvertent tool for me to translate ideas into sound, and mostly as an improviser at that. And in fact, when I do compose for various projects or for my bands, I almost always am doing it at the piano, a much more forgiving and logical universe to write in than the odd geometry of guitar-thought. But for this piece, I decided to really embrace the instrument and kind of get under the hood of a bunch of things that I do with the instrument, things that are somewhat identified with what it seems has now become my particular style, while at the same time reach for the narrative element of storytelling that is the imperative and primary function for me always as a musician.
And yet, with the piece now complete, as much as those components provided an aspirational environment to work from, the main quality that I think the piece offers is the emotional journey that it takes. Somehow through the challenge of writing for this unique platform and aiming it towards the hands of these especially talented players, I was able to get to a very personal area of what music itself is to me. It feels like a journey to me, almost a road trip in scale and scope.
In settling on the title “Road to the Sun”, I thought back to my trip up to Glacier National Park on the famous “Going-to-the-Sun Road”, the day after hearing LAGQ play live for the first time at a festival in Montana. It has been a thrill to get the chance to write for the amazing Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and I am very excited to hear what William, Scott, John and Matt will do on their journey with this work.
Pat Metheny: Road to the Sun (2016) was commissioned through the International Arts Foundation, Inc. for the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet by the lead commissioners: Newman Center for the Performing Arts/University of Denver and Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, College of Fine + Applied Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Additional support provided by co-commissioners: Lobero Theater Foundation, Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College, 92nd Street Y, Performing Arts Series at Johnson County Community College and Soka University of America/Soka Performing Arts Center.