Introducing Andrew Rubin and a New Guitar Concerto! – Interview Part 1

I had the most fantastic pleasure last week to speak with an exceptionally talented young guitarist, composer and orchestrator by the name of Andrew Rubin.

Californian-based Rubin has recently released, in digital format, his first full-scale classical work – Guitar Concerto – written with rock legend Jon Anderson, along with a live concert film and recording of Rubin on guitar performing the work with the San Luis Chamber Orchestra.

His musical background consists of many projects spanning Rock, Pop, Jazz, Electronic and more. Rubin made his debut as a composer with the San Luis Obispo Chamber Orchestra in October of 2015. Guitar Concerto, a collaboration with mentor, Jon Anderson (of Yes), was well received and paved his way to further work with names such as Styx lead singer, Tommy Shaw, and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra.

On with part one of the interview!

Before we launch into talking about your Guitar Concerto project tell us a bit about yourself – who is Andrew Rubin?

Who is Andrew Rubin? You know I’m still kind of figuring that out myself! I started playing guitar when I was 13, and I started playing in a lot of rock bands. I was very heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and stuff like that. Quite a far different direction than classical music.

So I happened to live near the same town as Jon Anderson (from Yes), and I met him when I was like 14 or 15. He really likes helping young musicians. I started learning this piece, Classical Gas by Mason Williams and I actually performed that, and he saw it and said you’re playing classical, that’s really wonderful, you should try writing in that style. I thought “no, I can’t do that, I’m not that kind of guitar player”, but he kind of encouraged me to start shaping this guitar concerto.

So we started just working on it, on bits and pieces and over weeks, through email and sometimes I’d go to his house. Over the years eventually I started to orchestrate it, my path kind of shifted from this rock ‘n’ roll player to composer and classical guitar player. And now aspire to compose for TV and film one day, so I’m studying to get really good at that.

So the Guitar Concerto – it’s a fabulous full-length work. You were saying you were given the idea to start working on that, what was the inspiration behind the music itself? What inspired you to develop the work?

I really have to thank Jon for that actually because after he saw Classical Gas he said have you ever heard of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez? He showed me a video of John Williams playing it, and that kind of served as the basis of the concerto. We really wanted to base it on something in a Spanish vein, like Rodrigo. So he introduce me to that and we kind of used that as a basis.

There’s so little good guitar concerto repertoire out there, it’s really good to have something new coming into the repertoire.

Yeah, I looked around and haven’t seen too many other guitar concertos. So I hope that this contributes something to the world of music!

And for gigs where you can’t bring 60 or 70 other musicians you can just play along to a backing track! I’m doing that today (Andrew was setting up for a gig as I was interviewing him and was Facebook live streaming the event!).

So is there a score going to be published so others can play the concerto?

I’ve written a score but I haven’t published it yet. Because it was the first score I ever attempted to write there were a lot of beginner sort of mistakes with it, just like little notation things and stuff. So there’s a need to clean it up a little before I attempt too get it published. But I would love to get it published and get it out there, if other people wanted to perform it that would be wonderful.

What part of the process, of writing and putting the piece together, did you most enjoy?

There’s so many different aspects, I mean the whole thing was just a terrific experience. From the very beginning when it was Jon and I on two guitars, and he doesn’t play lead so he would just sing a lot of the melodies. He’d say stuff like maybe you should change keys here, or go up a fifth, or he’d sing something. And when it was just very raw like that with two guitars it was introducing me to this whole new world of classical music that I wasn’t familiar with.

Then I think the second most magical moment was when we were trying to get it orchestrated by a professional orchestrator, but that couldn’t happen, it just fell through. So one day I was like well why don’t I just try doing this myself? Like, what if I try reading on how to write for these instruments and try doing it. So it was then a weak in the summer where I was just in my garage working on the score for like 8 hours a day, on some really basic software. I was working on it for like 8 hours a day because I was just so excited, it was coming together. I said to myself wow I can do this! This is really cool, this is turning into something else!

I think those are the two biggest memories that stand out – working with Jon and also discovering orchestration.

If you were to start the project afresh tomorrow is there anything you’d do differently?

Hmmm, I think the process wouldn’t be much different, but I have much more professional tools now than I did before. I work with Sibelius and I Logic to record things with, whereas before I just had a little tape recorder and stuff like that. So I’d really start stuff the same, it was really just improvising, and writing parts on the guitar and then building around that, and sculpting it that way. Now I just have more tools at my disposal, so it would be better, faster, easier.

And that’s it for part one of my interview with the talented Andrew Rubin. Be sure to head back this way soon for part two. Ooh and make sure you take a look around Andrew’s website too:


Album Review – Solo Flight: The Music of Django Reinhardt & Lenny Breau

Hello readers! I have the very first cab off of the 2017 review rank here for you today (and I’ve got more lined up already for the next couple of months!).

Today’s review has somewhat of jazzy flavour, a flavour that’s always so nice to mix up into the classical stuff. Solo Flight: The Music of Django Reinhardt & Lenny Breau is the debut solo album from New York City-based classical guitarist J.P. McShane and features ten new arrangements for classical guitar.

Who is J.P. McShane?

J.P. McShane is a classical guitarist located in New York City. He has performed with LoftOpera Brooklyn, Contemporaneous and Ensemble Mise-en . He has premiered dozens of new works by composers from around the world including Laurie Spiegel (USA), Vedran Mehinovic (Bosnia) and Yoon-Ji Lee (South Korea). He was the winner of the Solo Juried Recital at the 2012 Guitar Foundation of America Regional Symposium held in New York City and has studied classical guitar with Metropolitan Opera’s guitarist and lutenist, Frederic Hand, and Turkish guitar virtuoso, Mesut Özgen. J.P. holds a Bachelors of Music with a minor in Jazz from the University of California at Santa Cruz and a Masters of Music in Classical Guitar Performance from Mannes College The New School for Music.

J.P. currently teaches at the New York Conservatory of Music, located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and at the Fort Lee School of Music in Bergen County New Jersey.

Not too shabby a guitarist then!

About Solo Flight: The Music of Django Reinhardt & Lenny Breau

The first five tracks are arrangements based off improvisations by jazz guitarist Lenny Breau. It includes compositions by Henry Mancini (Days of Wine and Roses), McCoy Tyner (Vision), Luiz Bonfá (Batucada), and two Lenny Breau originals (Celtic Dream Stream and New York City).

Grammy award-winning classical guitarist and composer Andrew York studied jazz guitar with Lenny Breau as a graduate student at the University of Southern California in the early 1980s. York provides a personal reflection of his time working with Lenny for the CD and mp3 liner notes (Lenny Breau was tragically murdered in 1984 and his death remains unsolved to this day).

The second half of Solo Flight features five improvisations by Django Reinhardt, recorded by the legendary guitarist between 1937 and 1945. The pieces contain a healthy dose of romanticism in addition to Django Reinhardt’s signature hot jazz style. Interestingly enough, Improvisation No. 2 is the only piece Django Reinhardt is known to have recorded finger style and without a pick. These pieces were arranged by J.P. with the classical guitarist in mind and are presented as a single work comprised of five movements titled 5 Improvisations by Django Reinhardt.

Solo Flight: The Music of Django Reinhardt & Lenny Breau was recorded, mixed and mastered by Graig Janssen at Mercy Sound Studios, New York, NY, in the summer of 2016 and produced by J.P. McShane and Graig Janssen. All music was transcribed and arranged for the classical guitar by J.P. McShane. J.P. has even produced sheet music for those wanting to play it for themselves!

The Review

It’s clear from the outset on this recording that J.P. is no slouch at all and plays with a delicious tone and intensely keen sense of phrasing. He really “owns” this music and plays it with a sense and style of his own without it feeling like a copy or pastiche of the original.

Album opener Days of Wine & Roses is a great way to set the tone and flavour of the recording. Beautiful harmonics, beautiful tone and what sounds to be an innate sense of timing in the phasing. So lovely.

Vision is a more upbeat offering presented on steel string, with a driving drone bass, played full steam ahead into Batucada. I love the samba dance feel of this piece, which J.P. really brings to the fore. I particularly love the percussive elements in this piece – expert execution that conjures aural images of a kalimba (African thumb harp).

Celtic Dream Stream does have an almost dream-like quality to it – dream stream sums it up well. And J.P. delivers on the intent of the music, he really has this music under his skin and is not afraid to communicate to the audience that intent in all its lush harmonic richness in a very musically sensitive way.

New York City (which features Jaclyn Taylor on vocals) has some more simple (or more simple-sounding which is an art form in itself!) guitar, but no less lovely and no less expertly played. J.P. harmonics are just the best!

My favourite track (or tracks) on this recording has to be the Five Improvisations – and it’s really hard to pick a favourite Improvisation! These are all played with a virtuosic sense of the style. In spite of saying it was hard to pick a favourite from the five, Improvisation No. 2 would probably have to be up there – lovely fluid, lyrical melodies, with just the most delectably placed descending chords that sound so sweet on J.P.’s steel string guitar.

Check out this clip of J.P. playing Improvisation No. 2 (on regular classical nylon string which sounds just beautiful):

For those of you who like a wee bit of something a wee bit jazzy then I suggest you get your hands on a copy of Solo Flight. This is seriously awesome offering from J.P. McShane as his debut recording – accomplished, subtle and musically intelligent musicality paired with an equally accomplished, sensitively virtuosic playing.

Take a look at this page of J.P. McShane’s website to check out how you can get your hands on your own copy right now!