Don't ask the members of the Dublin Guitar Quartet to play the time-honored classics of the Spanish repertoire. They might play traditional Spanish style classical guitars, but they're not your standard guitar ensemble. The Dubliners are strictly devoted to contemporary music. They've been commissioning new pieces and adapting others for both acoustic and electric guitars since 2002, when the group formed at the Dublin Conservatory of Music and Drama.
Dressed more like stylish bankers than hipsters, the musicians filed behind Bob Boilen's desk in matching suits and proceeded to make string quartet music by Philip Glass shine in a completely new way.
Whether you know the Glass quartets or not, it's astonishing how satisfying the music sounds on four guitars. The interlocking parts are transparent and the music seems to breathe fresh air. The group's intonation is impeccable, the rhythms crisp and precise whether they are keeping the propulsive engine chugging or lurching to a sudden new arpeggio. Watch their heads, all bobbing in unison.
In these arrangements by DGQ, the music is far more subtle than simple repetitions. Just a slight vibrato on the high notes in the third movement of the Second Quartet gives them a sweet, pearly sheen. And the slow section of Glass' Third Quartet, tender as a lullaby, is punctuated with carefully selected notes that hang in the air like fragrances. In other spots, brash strumming summons the spirit of flamenco.
Glass' music has been a staple for these musicians, but they also play pieces by Steve Reich, Henryk Górecki and Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy. They've even paired with a couple of rock bands. With eight hands and 24 strings it seems the DGQ can tackle almost anything.
- Glass: String Quartet No. 2, "Company," Mvts. II & III
- Glass: String Quartet No. 3, "Mishima," Mvt. III, "1934: Grandmother & Kimitake"
- Glass: String Quartet No. 3, "Mishima," Mvt. II, "November 25: Ichigaya"
- Glass: String Quartet No. 3, "Mishima," Mvt. IV, "1962: Body Building"
Dublin Guitar Quartet
Producers: Tom Huizenga, Maggie Starbard; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Susan Hale Thomas, Nick Michael, Maggie Starbard; Assistant Producer: Claire Eggers; photo by Claire Eggers/NPR