David Tanenbaum: As She Sings


Luminary guitarist David Tanenbaum releases As She Sings, a compilation of works written for him reflecting a rich trajectory of aesthetics on the instrument. The program includes works by legendary Brazilian guitarist Sérgio Assad, a work with effects processing by Ronald Bruce Smith, Serbian Dušan Bogdanović's textural song cycle with ensemble, John Anthony Lennon's title track, and David's father Elias' modernist Music for Guitar.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 46:41
01Shadows and Light
Shadows and Light
David Tanenbaum, guitar7:18

Five Pieces for guitar with live electronics

Ronald Bruce Smith
David Tanenbaum, guitar
02I. Echoes
I. Echoes
David Tanenbaum, guitar2:30
03II. Lachrymal
II. Lachrymal
David Tanenbaum, guitar3:21
04III. Brunete
III. Brunete
David Tanenbaum, guitar2:20
05IV. Saudade
IV. Saudade
David Tanenbaum, guitar3:16
06V. Stèle
V. Stèle
David Tanenbaum, guitar3:43
07Music for Guitar
Music for Guitar
David Tanenbaum, guitar5:48


Dušan Bogdanović
Wendy Hillhouse, mezzo-soprano, David Tanenbaum, guitar, Stacy Pelinka, flute, Stan Poplin, bass, Tim Dent and Matt Canon, ceramic gongs, Nicole Paiement, conductor
08I. Before Play
I. Before Play
Wendy Hillhouse, mezzo-soprano, David Tanenbaum, guitar, Stacy Pelinka, flute, Stan Poplin, bass, Tim Dent and Matt Canon, ceramic gongs, Nicole Paiement, conductor1:51
09II. The Hunter
II. The Hunter
Wendy Hillhouse, mezzo-soprano, David Tanenbaum, guitar, Stacy Pelinka, flute, Stan Poplin, bass, Tim Dent and Matt Canon, ceramic gongs, Nicole Paiement, conductor1:33
10III. The Rose-Thieves (in memory of Terry Graves)
III. The Rose-Thieves (in memory of Terry Graves)
Wendy Hillhouse, mezzo-soprano, David Tanenbaum, guitar, Stacy Pelinka, flute, Stan Poplin, bass, Tim Dent and Matt Canon, ceramic gongs, Nicole Paiement, conductor3:36
11IV. The Seducer
IV. The Seducer
Wendy Hillhouse, mezzo-soprano, David Tanenbaum, guitar, Stacy Pelinka, flute, Stan Poplin, bass, Tim Dent and Matt Canon, ceramic gongs, Nicole Paiement, conductor1:02
12V. The Chase
V. The Chase
Wendy Hillhouse, mezzo-soprano, David Tanenbaum, guitar, Stacy Pelinka, flute, Stan Poplin, bass, Tim Dent and Matt Canon, ceramic gongs, Nicole Paiement, conductor1:11
13VI. Ashes
VI. Ashes
Wendy Hillhouse, mezzo-soprano, David Tanenbaum, guitar, Stacy Pelinka, flute, Stan Poplin, bass, Tim Dent and Matt Canon, ceramic gongs, Nicole Paiement, conductor2:43
14VII. After Play
VII. After Play
Wendy Hillhouse, mezzo-soprano, David Tanenbaum, guitar, Stacy Pelinka, flute, Stan Poplin, bass, Tim Dent and Matt Canon, ceramic gongs, Nicole Paiement, conductor2:23
15As She Sings
As She Sings
David Tanenbaum, guitar4:06

For the past five decades, guitarist David Tanenbaum has championed his instrument and ushered countless new solo and chamber works into the repertoire, enriching it with his curatorial acuity and powerful and sensitive performances. As She Sings documents several of those works, from an early piece written for him by his father, composer Elias Tanenbaum, to Dušan Bogdanović’s textural song cycle Games, to the most recent work in the collection by iconic Brazilian virtuoso Sérgio Assad.

More angular and modernist than most of Assad’s music, Shadows and Light features searching, snaking lines that explore increasing dissonance and tension over a series of dense repeated chords. In an energetic middle section, a rhythmic pedal point is embellished by guitaristic fills and accented chords that are more characteristic of Assad’s Brazilian inflected writing. Sequential flourishes followed by decaying echoes offer shades of Leo Brouwer. A pensive coda echoes the voicing of the opening, but the light seems to have overcome the shadows as the dissonance gives way to expansive, consonant harmonies.

Ronald Bruce Smith’s Five Pieces for guitar and live electronics places the live guitarist in an interactive relationship to various kinds of digital processing, creating a hyper-guitar. In addition to the range of electronics processing, Smith explores different styles of guitar playing in the set. In the opening piece, variable delays capture insistent repeated notes and scale bursts, projecting them into a steely, synthetic landscape. The second piece establishes an exotic, prayerful texture over a drone evocative of Indian classical music, and features processing that modulates the initial pitch upon repeats and includes pointed bell sounds that articulate arrivals. Brusque chords, short slurred figures, and percussive effects trigger quickly decaying delays in the third piece. Motivic ideas are built upon each other additively, and midway through the movement a harmonizer contributes a lower register, shadowing the guitar part. In the fourth piece, a watery flanger effect enhances lush, extended chords, at times reminiscent of Satie. Smith describes the nature of the processing that generates the gong and chime sounds at the opening of the final piece: “resonance models that are excited by noise that is sent to them from the guitarist.” A haunting repeated figure in the guitar is sampled and provides a pad for a rhapsodic, improvisatory solo line to emerge above it. In the work’s final section we hear non-pitched extended techniques on the guitar accompanied by tintinnabulation sounds in the electronics before a final shimmering descending scale.

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Written at the behest of his son as an antidote to his concerns about the guitar repertoire, Elias Tanenbaum’s Music for Guitar is gestural and episodic, conjuring and maintaining a sense of mystery throughout. Bent notes and right hand tapping are among two of the uncommon techniques that figure into a tapestry of textural ideas. Long structural lines are delineated by register and timbre if one listens to them as a sort of linear counterpoint in time. At the end of the work, the strings are slowly detuned, melting away the frame of reference that is the guitar’s standard tuning setup. With this final deconstructive gesture, and indeed with the adventurous piece as a whole, Tanenbaum the elder was symbolically taking his son’s request one step further, adding new work to the repertoire while simultaneously suggesting a challenge to its conventional boundaries.

Dušan Bogdanović’s Games sets poetry written in 1954 by the late Yugoslavian poet Vasko Popa. Indian ragas, Balkan modes, word painting, polymodality, palindrome, and polymeter figure into Bogdanović’s compositional toolbox for the piece. The opening song, “Before Play,” is a duo for voice and guitar where the guitar imitates the vocal line with rich, embellished passagework. As the vocal part descends in tessitura on the words “down to the bottom of your abyss,” the guitar ascends to play ambiguous, percussive pitches beyond the fretboard. Flute and percussion join for “The Hunter,” a vaguely hypnotic song accompanied by planing chords in the guitar, percolation in the gongs and mellifluous fragments in the flute. A slow ostinato lays the foundation for “The Rose Thieves,” over which the guitar and flute play languorous ornamental lines as a counterpart to the ominous text. “The Seducer” contains the work’s most experimental music thus far; short, clangorous sonic machines that comment on the vocal part. “The Chase” is driven and insistent, with a sprechstimme style vocal part anchored by an exotic groove established by the percussion, and punctuated by syncopated guitar chords and improvisatory solo lines in the piccolo. “Ashes” is a disembodied lullaby that evokes the ethereal music of George Crumb, with vocal melismas shrouded in eerie foreboding sounds in the ensemble. The final song of Games, “After Play,” returns to the condensed word painting gestures of “The Seducer,” before it closes with a lilting, bluesy coda.

The final work on the album, the title piece by John Anthony Lennon, was written as part of a triptych called The Fortunels. The melancholy piece is an elegy, written upon learning that his former composition teacher was ill. Poignant melodies emerge from broken arpeggiations of somber modal chords. Similar to much of the other repertoire on the album, Lennon’s work points past the classical guitar repertoire, this time to folkloric styles that are grounded in laments and deeply felt catharsis.

— Dan Lippel

Producers: Jason O’Connell (1, 7, 15) Ronald Bruce Smith (2-6) Alden Jenks (8-14)

Recorded at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, except 2-6 recorded at Wellspring Sound, Acton, Massachusetts

This recording is made possible by grants from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as well as Greg and Liz Lutz

Design & layout: Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com

Cover image: Jacob Tanenbaum

Guitars: Daniel Friederich, 1996, on Games Stephen Connor, 2012, on all other tracks

David Tanenbaum uses D’Addario strings

David Tanenbaum

Recognized internationally as an out-standing performing and recording artist, a charismatic educator, and a transcriber and editor of both taste and intelligence, David Tanenbaum is one of the most admired classical guitarists of his generation. He has performed throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Australia, the former Soviet Union and Asia, and in 1988 he became the first American guitarist to be invited to perform in China by the Chinese government. He has been soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Vienna’s ORF orchestra and many others, with such eminent conductors as Esa-Pekka Salonen, Alan Gilbert, Kent Nagano and John Adams.

While his repertoire encompasses diverse styles, David Tanenbaum is recognized as one of today’s most eloquent proponents of new guitar repertoire. Among the many works written for him is Hans Werner Henze’s guitar concerto An Eine Aolsharfe, Terry Riley’s first guitar piece, Ascención, five works by Aaron Jay Kernis, two pieces by Roberto Sierra and the last completed piece by Lou Harrison. He has toured extensively with Steve Reich and Musicians, was invited to Japan in 1991 by Toru Takemitsu, and had a long association with the Ensemble Modern. As a chamber musician he has collaborated with, among others, the Kronos, Shanghai, Alexander, Telegraph and Chester String Quartets, Terry Riley and the soprano Deborah Voigt. He is currently a member of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players.

David Tanenbaum’s three dozen recordings, which reflect his broad repertoire interests, can be found on Naxos, New Albion, EMI, Nonesuch, Ars Musici, Rhino, GSP, Albany, Audiofon, Bayer, Acoustic Music Records, Bridge, Stradivarius and others. His 2002 recording as soloist with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in John Adam’s Naive and Sentimental Music was nominated for a Grammy.

David Tanenbaum is currently Chair of the Guitar Department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he received the 1995 Outstanding Professor Award, and he is in demand for master classes worldwide. Mr. Tanenbaum’s students have won many international competitions, and his former students hold teaching positions internationally.



Take Effect

The veteran guitarist David Tanenbaum brings his inestimable talent to 5 rich and diverse tracks here, where he puts his inimitable stamp on compositions by Sérgio Assad, Ronald Bruce Smith, Dusan Bogdanovic, John Anthony Lennon, and Tanenbaum’s father, Elias.

Assad’s “Shadow And Light” leads the listen with intricate and soothing guitar playing as Tanenbaum plays with an agile and instantly memorable approach that’s also capable of tension and dissonance, and “Five Pieces For Guitar With Live Electronics” follows with a quivering, atmospheric delivery that’s occasionally bare and sometimes forceful with firm strumming, but never predictable in its digital processing and synthetic manipulation.

Elias Tanenbaum’s “Music For Guitar” occupies the middle spot with its sparse execution that’s picked precisely, while Bogdanovic’s “Games” showcases Wendy Hillhouse’s stunning mezzo soprano alongside Stacy Pelinka’s flute and ceramic gongs from Tim Dent and Matt Canon that cultivate grooves and blues ideas. The title track, by Lennon, then exits with Tanenbaum’s poetic and intimate guitar that’s melodic, somber and the ideal end to this well crafted album.

A very flexible and often modern affair, Tanenbaum’s body of work is both lengthy and impressive, and As She Sings fits in quite nicely with his solo and chamber works, where his long standing relationship with the guitar is showcased superbly.

— Tom Haugen, 9.20.2021


Minor 7th

David Tanenbaum has said that the defining moment when he decided to pursue music as a career was hearing an Andrés Segovia concert. Countless performance engagements and more than 30 recordings later, he is widely recognized as not only a guitarist of great renown, but also one of the instrument's stalwart champions of new guitar repertoire. In addition to his duties as Chair of the Guitar Department of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, he has collaborated with an impressive list of composers including Terry Reilly, Steve Reich, Hans Werner Henze, and Lou Harrison. As She Sings begins with the album's most recent piece "Shadows and Light," a work composed by SFCM colleague Sérgio Assad in 2016. Fans of Assad's work will recognize his trademark Brazilian rhythmic intensity in the middle of the piece, but both the outset and conclusion are quite unlike any of his previous compositions. Smith's 2007 work "Five Pieces for guitar with live electronics" features loops, recorded passages that are looped, and pre-recorded samples that intermingle with a variety of guitar techniques and resonances in different genres associated with the guitar. "Music for Guitar," the centerpiece of this recording in many ways, was written nearly 50 years ago by the artist's father, Elias Tanenbaum. The score appeared on David's music stand when he got home from school one day in 1972. Although programmed in live performance several times, this is the first recording of the piece. The album's penultimate work is "Games," a 2002 composition by another SFCM colleague Dusan Bogdanovic, which is based on a collection of poems written by Yugoslavian poet Vasko Pope in 1954. In addition to guitar, the piece features mezzo soprano, flute, bass, and ceramic gongs. The concluding title piece by John Anthony Lennon is the middle movement of a triptych of elegies called 'The Fortunels' written for Tanenbaum in 1999 and it serves as a moving, melancholic epilogue to a diverse and brilliantly performed program.

— David Pedrick, 6.02.2021


The WholeNote

Music written specifically for the guitarist, in this case David Tanenbaum, also features on As She Sings, a CD showcasing works created for him during the past five decades (ReEntrant REN01 newfocusrecordings.com). Sérgio Assad’s Shadows and Light is followed by Ronald Bruce Smith’s fascinating Five Pieces for Guitar with live electronics, in which different playing styles combine with a range of electronic processing. Music for Guitar is an early piece by Tanenbaum’s father Elias Tanenbaum. Tanenbaum is joined by mezzo-soprano Wendy Hillhouse, flute, bass and ceramic gongs for Dušan Bogdanović’s Games, seven short settings of poetry by the Yugoslavian poet Vasko Popa. John Anthony Lennon’s elegiac title track completes an intriguing and sometimes challenging disc.

— Terry Robbins, 12.20.2021



David Tanenbaum’s new CD is filled with (mostly) new, absorbing, and sometimes challenging music. It begins with Shadows and Light, a new piece by Sérgio Assad. Tanenbaum has never been an artist who avoided thorny and initially abrasive new works. Assad told the guitarist that he wanted to write a piece “unlike anything he had written before,” as quoted in the online notes for this disc. Well, he has succeeded. There are few if any parts reminiscent of his earlier pieces. This is no Aquarelle, but rather employs a very overtly modernistic style. Repeated listening is necessary but leads to an appreciation for the composer’s intentions. It sounds quite difficult to play, but Mr. Tanenbaum easily passes muster.

Next up is a fascinating, and to make a long story short, very cool composition: Five Pieces for Guitar with Live Electronics by Ronald Bruce Smith. Sometimes music employing these hybrid resources makes me grab for the mute button, but this piece is constantly fascinating, even if you have not heard its like before. It ranges from genuinely exciting to weirdly beautiful, with many interesting stops along the way. The notes on the internet give a good bit of detail about how the sounds are generated, which I don’t have space to include. The guitarist plays it with virtuosity and total commitment, and trust me, it works!

Music for Guitar, which follows, was a gift from composer Elias Tanenbaum, father, to David Tanenbaum, son. It is an intriguing exploration of the guitar’s potential sound world creatively addressed in a work now almost fifty years old.

Now hold onto your seats for the next piece, Dušan Bogdanovic’s Games. It is a song cycle for mezzo-soprano (in this case) with guitar, flute, bass, and percussion. It is a wild and thoroughly engaging ride. It is based on surreal but insightful poems by Vasko Popa. I wish I had time to quote some of them to give a flavor of the work. Reading the texts (which are thoughtfully included in the notes) makes the point that the surreal sometimes offers as much wisdom as concrete reality. Wendy Hillhouse takes her voice on a trip from luscious conventional vocalism to dramatic parlando. An impressive performance.

The program concludes with its title work, As She Sings, by John Anthony Lennon (an artist forever committed to using his middle name). It is brief but impressive, sounding a bit like Couperin’s Mysterious Barricades, but in slow motion and with contemporary harmonic and melodic content. Congratulations to Mr. Tanenbaum and the composers who contributed to this fine release.

— Al Kunze, 1.01.2022

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