A staple of KBPX airwaves for 26 years, classical guitarist and “Guitar Hour” radio host Leon Atkinson is bringing his show to the stage for the third year via the Friends of the Guitar Hour Concert Series.
Atkinson began the concert series with the goal of bringing renowned guitarists to the Inland Northwest.
The 2017-18 concert series kicks off with a performance by Paul Galbraith at the Jacklin Arts and Cultural Center on Friday.
Galbraith, who is Scottish, is best known for his eight-string guitar, which he designed with the late renowned luthier David Rubio and calls the Brahms guitar, also known as the cello-guitar.
Galbraith’s guitar, like a cello, is supported by an endpin, which rests on a wooden resonance box. As a result, Galbraith holds the guitar like a cello.
“As a guitarist, I feel I am now able to start out again with a whole new world of unfolding possibilities, made available to me thanks to David Rubio and the development of the Brahms Guitar,” Galbraith wrote on his website.
Atkinson has met Galbraith and seen him perform before, and he has played Galbraith’s CDs on his show.
In a six-degrees-of-separation scenario, Atkinson and Galbraith are also connected through Peter Croton.
Croton is currently the head of the lute and guitar program at the Conservatory of Music in Basel, Switzerland, where Galbraith teaches.
And when he was younger, Croton studied classical guitar under Atkinson when both musicians lived in New York.
“It’s like a big family because it’s such a specialized area…,” Atkinson said. “To get someone like Paul Galbraith to come to the area is a major feather in not just my hat but in the hat of the guitar world.”
When selecting musicians for the Friends of the Guitar Hour Concert Series, Atkinson tries to meet a number of criteria.
Number one, he tries to bring in notable international artists. Number two, he tries to highlight local musicians.
“I feel that too often people bring people in and overlook the local people,” Atkinson said. “We have some excellent local people in the Spokane area.”
Spokane’s Paul Grove will perform as part of the concert series at Holy Names Music Center on Feb. 16.
Grove teaches guitar at Gonzaga University, Whitworth University and North Idaho College and has performed with several Northwest ensembles including the Spokane Symphony, the Coeur d’Alene Symphony and the Gonzaga University Symphony.
Atkinson said he brought Grove to Spokane 20 years ago to be his assistant at Gonzaga.
“We’re really lucky to have Paul in the area,” Atkinson said.
Finally, feeling like the classical guitar world is dominated by males, he also makes sure to include a female guitarist in the concert series.
Elizabeth Brown will perform at Holy Names Music Center on March 23.
Brown performs an average of 50 concerts around the Pacific Northwest each year.
Between performances, she is the head of the guitar and lute program at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma and runs a private studio. She has also taught at Seattle Pacific University and at various workshops in and around the Pacific Northwest.
Closing the series is New York’s David Tanenbaum, performing at the Jacklin Center on May 11. Tanenbaum is another old friend of Atkinson.
“We studied with the same teacher just in different bodies,” Atkinson said. “That said, I studied with Alberto Valdés-Blain and he studied with Rolando Valdés-Blain, who were the two top teachers in New York City for many years.”
Tanenbaum currently serves as the chair of the guitar department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and often performs around California and internationally.
No matter which concert they attend, Atkinson hopes audience members walk away from the Friends of the Guitar Hour Concert Series seeing the guitar in a new light.
“First of all, that the guitar is not just a thing you strum or you pluck,” he said. “It’s the equivalent of an orchestra because you have all these different things that you can do simultaneously that you can’t do on many instruments.”
He notes that series opener Galbraith is able to bring out the melody like like a vocalist while also playing with the staccato of a string section. At the same time, the extra strings on his guitar add extra resonance, allowing him to cover the bass section as well.
“Generally speaking, anyone who has not seen a classical guitarist and has not been exposed to someone of Paul’s level, whether you play rock ‘n’ roll, folk, blues, it doesn’t matter. Come to this concert and listen to this man play his instrument and you’re going to walk away with total new insights to what you do in your direction,” Atkinson said.