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Jerry Willard
Guitarist & Lutenist

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Articles & Reviews:

New York Times, Oct. 13, 1979, debut concert at Abraham Goodman House, reviewed by

Raymond Ericson:

        "The guitarist demonstated an unquestionable technical skill and superiority in the use of color and delineation of voices."

       "the recital was exemplary. Mr. Willard took lute in hand for some pieces by Adrian LeRoy and John Dowland and turned that            normally  pale-sounding predecessor of the guitar into a vivid and brilliant instrument. The rhythms had steadiness and brio."

        It was, again, the clarity of Mr. Willard's contrapuntal and colorful playing that gave special pleasure."

        "wonderfully sparkling and entertaining."

The New York Times, Saturday April 30, 1994

        "....Jerry Willard's Guitar playing was warm-toned and responsive in Ms. Tower's work."

Cleveland Plain Dealer, Oct. 7, 1979, reviewed by Robert Finn

        "he concentrates on line, phrasing, and elegant sound rather than virtuosity for its   own sake."

The Guitar Review, summer 1984

        "The untethered elements of this famous work allowed Willard the leeway to release the fluency of talent that is as gifted as it is versatile."

The East Hampton Star, April 5, 1990, reviewed by Fred Volkmer

       "Textures were crystalline, the surface shimmered, but Mr. Willard reached below the surface to find the deeper current of significance,          what Aldous Huxley referred to as truth in strictly musical terms."           


'Exquisite Reveries' On a Classical Guitar


The guitar," according to Andres Segovia, "is the most unpredictable and least reliable musical instrument in existence – and also the sweetest, the warmest, the most delicate, whose melancholic voice awakes your soul exquisite reveries." When Jerry Willard takes the stage at U.S. Blues in Roslyn at 5 P.M. Wednesday with his lute and guitar, he will try to demonstrate the second part of the encompassing Segovia statement, if not the first. As the sole artist of this seventh of 10 summer 'Wine, Cheese and Classical Guitar" evenings, he will perform works by John Dowland, William Byrd, Francesco da Milano, Jean-Baptiste Besard, J.S. Bach, Benjamin Britten and George Gershwin. The series is sponsored by the Guitar Workshop in Roslyn Heights and partly underwritten by a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts. Mr. Willard, who is head of the three-year old guitar department at the State University at Stony Brook and teaches at The Manhattan School of Music, will also conduct two days of master classes at the Guitar Workshop in September, in which the playing of advanced students will be critically analyzed.Although pre-18th century composers will dominate this week's went (fully half the program consists of Renaissance lute music), Mr. Willard indicated that he was equally excited about playing guitar arrangements of four Gershwin piano pieces, which he lauded for their musicality and "wonderfully subtle harmonies.""These are more than transcriptions," he said, "because they involve translating Gershwin's ideas to guitar while trying to preserve the original sound."He called the program "something of an experiment for me" since it moves outside the realm of familiar English lute pieces into the Continental styles of – French and Italian composers, and because, atypically, so few contemporary composers are represented.The guitar has had a checkered but persistent history as a classical instrument. According to Mr. Willard,"The guitar has always been on the edge of acceptability. One associates it with the poet under the tree rather than withstarched shirts in the salon. It is so versatile – hardly any other instrument can do what it can do – and the literature is not as old or as fixed, sothat there is a little more room to be interpretative. In performance, the trick is to project and to create the illusion that something wonderful is happening. "Essentially, at the beginning of a concert, you've got a blank slate. Illusion is absent. That's why I like to start with a complex piece that gets me and the audience involved right away. And I like to balance the intensity of faster pieces with an occasional slow one, to give both audience and performer a rest. "Dynamics are very important, but performance is also intuitive. I don't know quite what I do. I don't think any performer does." Standards for classical guitar and lute playing, Ms. Willard said, have become much higher, and audiences considerably more sophisticated, in the last 10 years. "Audiences want to hear longer pieces now, "and my students are so good I have to practice like a bandit to keep up with them." Mr. Willard attributes these developments in large part to the ground-breaking efforts of Segovia of Spain and later of Julian Bream and John Williams of Britain, guitarists and lutanists who have worked to insure the guitar’s status as a major concert instrument. Along with Narcisco Yepes of Spain and a few others, these men have inspired many younger players, including Mr. Willard, who is in his mid-30’s. Concurrently, the body of classical guitar literature as expanded as more classical composers have created work specifically for the instrument and works written for other instruments have been transcribe for guitar. Mr. Willard has published a book of his transcriptions. Raised in Cleveland, Mr. Willard began studying with his father, who had a short performing career as a jazz rhythm guitarist in the Depression. When the younger Willard first heard the classical style in his teens, he was "totally amazed," he said, at how chords and melody could be played simultaneously. Eventually, he went to Washington to study with Sophocles Papas, the Greek pedagogue and concert guitarist who, Mr. Willard said, "Taught a lot of good players during the 60’s at his little studio there." "He was about 65 then," he continued, "and a very tiny man - I’m sure he was under five feet - but I used to think he was 10 feet tall. If his head bobbed up while I was playing, I knew I was in trouble. He was a very strict disciplinarian. He didn’t say much, but when he did speak, what he said was unforgettable." "I am not a great practicer," Mr. Willard said, "The important things you do when you do practice are concentration and consistency. After all music is a language and the key is to get better at it.


Jerry Willard Starts 'Guitar New York' Series "Guitar New York," six recitals by young guitarists sponsored by LaBella Strings of Long Island City, was opened Wednesday night by Jerry Willard in Abraham Goodman House. The performer, who is co-founder of the Contemporary Institute of Guitar in Port Washington, L.I.; director if the classical-guitar program at Stony Brook and a faculty member at the Manhattan School of Music, was making his debut as a soloist.   .....................the recital was exemplary. Mr. Willard took lute in hand for some pieces by Adrian le Roy and John Dowland and turned that normally pale-sounding predecessor of the guitar into a vivid and brilliant instrument. The rhythms has steadiness and brio. Back with the guitar, the performer played his own transcriptions of Each's Lute Suite No. 1 in E minor and five dances from Britten's Gloriana," plus Henze's attractive "Drei Tentos," with their enigmatic subtitles. It was, again, the clarity of Mr. Willard's contrapuntal and colorful playing that gave special pleasure. As an encore, he offered a jazz arrangement of ""April Showers" in a wonderfully sparkling and entertaining manner.



Coming as I did fresh from the small Caravaggio exhibit at the Metropolitan, which features the two versions of "The Lutenist," as well as a score of paintings of lutanists by his contemporaries, it took little effort for me during the beginning of Jerry Willard's Sunday afternoon recital at Southampton College to close my eyes and imagine myself thrown back into that time when music and language seemed freshly minted. Jerry Willard is a lutanist and guitarist, in charge of guitar studies at the State University at Stony Brook. He has performed at Alice Tully Hall and Carnegie Hall. His audience Sunday afternoon, however, was sparse, one of the thinnest I have ever seen at the East End performance, consisting, it seemed, largely of students of Mr. Willard's and several guitar aficionados. Those who did not attend missed hearing a performer of rare ability.

Near The Stream's Source Mr. Willard began the evening with two sets of selections on the lute. The first were transcriptions for the lute of work by the Irish Harpist Turlough Carolan, the second a set of galliards by John Dowland. In the work of Carolan, we heard the melodic inventiveness and rhythmic vigor that can still be heard in contemporary performances of Irish folk music. It was as if we had dipped into a continually running stream, but much closer to the source.

John Dowland was the greatest of lute composers and in Mr. Willard we found a performer who could do him justice. We heard some of the more familiar works: "The Frog Galliard," "Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens" (a Latin pun on his name -- ever Dowland, ever sad),'"The King of Denmark His Galliard" Dowland was for a time lutanist to King Christian IV of Denmark), and a fantasia on his song "The Lowest Trees Have Tops. We heard the soft arabesques of melody and watched the balletic movement of his left hand on the fretboard, and could not help but admire the deftness of technique, the delicacy of feeling, the subtle ebb and flow of rubato, the exquisitely exact intonation, the almost liquid forward movement. Somewhere in the empyrean Dowland must have been nodding his head in grateful approval. Master Of The Contemporary Mr. Willard showed his mastery of contemporary idiom as well in the next set of three works for guitar by

Hans Werner Henze, "Drei Tentos." (There were several German misspellings on the program, so I reproduce this cautiously. I have no idea what a tento is, cannot find it in any German dictionary that I possess, and have a sneaking suspicion that it's the creation of a wayward typewriter. Cantos possibly?) Henze began life as a composer of 12-tone music, but he is not rigid and these works had some of the more time-honored elements of music, melody, rhythm, and traditional tonality. Based on three poems by Friedrich Holderlin, they displayed an astringent lyricism. Mr. Willard closed the first half of the program with two short pieces by Francisco Tarrega, the creator of the modern guitarist school. Isaac Albeniz, after hearing Tarrega's transcriptions of his own works for guitar, said that they were superior to the originals for piano. The two that we heard were "Recuerdos de la Alhambra" and "Capricho Arabe," both richly evocative and haunting.

Suites By Bach The second half of the program began with Bach's Suite No. 2 for lute played on the guitar. Each wrote four suites for baroque lute (more often heard on guitar) and they occupy a place in the guitar repertoire similar to that of the suites for unaccompanied cello in the cello repertoire. Taking into account the slenderer tonal resources of the guitar, they are not lesser works. Technically demanding, the second suite is a collection of abstractions of dance forms, as are the others. Formalistic, yet at the same time revealing how much freedom is possible within a narrow frame, the work is ultimately joyous, though probing and grave in the sarabande. During this movement Willard suffered a brief memory lapse, yet he recovered with grace, picking up the strands of melody to continue weaving an astonishing tapestry of sound. Textures were crystalline, the surface shimmered, but Mr. Willard reached below the surface to find the deeper current of significance, what Aldous Huxley referred to as "truth in strictly musical terms."

A Medium For The Sublime Mr. Willard closed the program with three free transcriptions of his own from Gershwin's Song Book: "Liza," "Summertime," and "I Got Rhythm. Jerry Willard's platform manner is shy and self-effacing, yet when bent over the lute or the guitar he seemed transformed, a medium for some of the most sublime music. He is less a virtuoso than an interpreter, yet this is more a function of personality than of skill. Jerry Willard is simply a superb artist. Fred Volkmer, East Hampton Star, April 5, 1990

Jerry Willard: Lute, Baroque Guitar and Guitar, Hays Theater, Molloy College Rockville Centre, New York.

"Buckle your seat belt...we’re in for some ride" , I said to the friend next to me. A comment perhaps more at home at a rock concert than an evening of music spanning the 16th through  the 20th century. However , one glance at the program , announcing "Jerry Willard: Lute, Baroque guitar, and guitar " was an indication that this was indeed going to be a unique musical event. I had seen Willard before , but in duet recitals with other instrumentalists. This evening was all Mr.Willard , and what an evening it proved to be.

Willard made his entrance to the Hays Theater with lute in hand . His introduction was an invitation to share in a musical journey ,"following the development of my instrument , the guitar " from its 16th century form as a 13 string lute to its present embodiment as what we know as the modern classical guitar.

The program began with three pieces by Anthony Holbourne (d.1602), Heigh Ho Holiday, Anthony’s Pavan and Muy Linda, establishing the clear voice of Willard’s lute (made by David Rubio in the late 1960's) . Next , Mr.Willard introduced four pieces by John Dowland by telling us that while Holbourne had never left England , Dowland had traveled extensively throughout Europe and this worldliness was reflected in his compositions. We soon were witness to the wider spectrum of color and the broader contrapuntal effect of the bass strings of the lute . The sublime Lachrimae Gementes and Fantasia "All in a Garden Green " were perfect bookends for the familiar The Frog Galliard and Tarleton’s Reserrectione. Willard plays the lute masterfully ,with both a lush ,warm tone one doesn’t automatically associate with the lute as well as a bright forceful attack that never became harsh.

Mr.Willard then transported us from the Elizabethan court to Spain . He graciously shared the stage with his next instrument , a Baroque guitar , heavily influenced by an instrument made by Belchoir Dias (c.1590) and exquisitely crafted this year by Long Island luthier Patrick Caruso . Willard demonstrated the crisp clear voice of this small bodied guitar, with its five double course strings, playing his arrangement of five Gaspar Sanz pieces. I’ve been a fan of Canarios and Pavan since hearing the Bream RCA recordings. Yet , hearing this music with Willards’ ornamentation ; played on the instrument it was written for provided a totally new experience . The Baroque guitar filled the sizeable hall with crystal clarity and tonal color and produced a surprisingly robust rasgueado as well .Willards’ love for playing this music and its newfound voice provided by the Caruso Baroque guitar was evident and certainly one of the evenings’ highlights.

Mr.Willard continued with yet another instrument , a 19th century guitar (made in Paris c. 1820) by Francois LaCote. This small bodied instrument with six single strings, closely approximates our modern concert guitar and provides a direct link to the music and sound of Sor and Giuliani, since they both played and composed with such an instrument . Willard performed the Sonata Op.71 by Mauro Giuliani . The opening movement Andante sostenuto was played beautifully by Willard , demonstrating balanced harmonies and surprising shades of color from such a small bodied guitar . The Allegro was another delight and proved the LaCote guitar to have a power that belies its diminutive size.

The second half of the concert featured twentieth century music performed on contemporary classic guitars , made by New York luthier Nickolas Ioannou ( one was only three weeks old ). The first work , by Carlo Domeniconi entitled Koyunbaba, consisted of four movements in a minimalist style . The contrast between the third and fourth movements, Cantabile and Presto, showcased the power and tonal versatility of the modern guitar .Willard was able to coax the subtlest nuance one moment and achieve a commanding yet warm sound in the next instant. It was refreshing to hear a relatively new and different composition as the Koyunbaba , and the audience responded enthusiastically to Willards’ fine treatment.

The concert closed with two well known compositions by the quintessential Spanish composer Manuel de Falla . The first , Omaggio , was the only piece that de Falla actually composed for the guitar . Here, Willards’ performance was of the highest caliber .The balance and clarity of the Nickolas Ioannou guitar gave voice to those strange , brilliant harmonies that captivate the listener. Jerry Willards’ overall treatment of the Omaggio was hauntingly beautiful . Willard ended the evening with his transcription of The Millers’Dance . His interpretation captured the essence of Spain and the passion of that musical genre .

Jerry Willard shared this wonderful, informative and thoroughly entertaining evening with his instruments and their makers . During the concert , he introduced the luthiers (both Patrick Caruso and Nickolas Ioannou were present ) when their respective instruments were featured. In lieu of an encore , and to the delight of many , Willard invited interested parties backstage for a closer look at the instruments . Dozens queued for the privelege . The combination of Jerry Willards’ enlightening comments , the introduction of the different instruments and their makers and Willards’ masterful musicianship was delivered in a warm , relaxed manner that endeared Willard to the crowd . My thoughts on my way home that night centered on the scores of great concerts and artists that I’d seen over the years and when or where had I seen a concert that I enjoyed more . I couldn’t think of one. John Kovach, Molloy College, Rockville Center, NY, October 30, 1997

Recital: Flute and Guitar Combination, New York Times, Wednesday, January 31, 1979

The dulcet combination of flute an suite is an unusually compatible one and very hard to resist. Small wonder that a capacity audience at Carnegie Recital Hall on Jan. 19 showed no signs at all of putting up a struggle against the musicianship of Sylvia Alexander, flutist and Jerry Willard, guitarist.

The program was inevitably a light one. and all the more instantly enjoyable for that. Together, the two musicians offered a tasty assortment of sweetmeats by Ibert (Entr’acte), Bozza (Three Pieces), De Falla ("La Vida Breve"), Bartok (Dance Suite) and Ned Rorem ("Romeo and Juliet"). As for the solo selections, Miss Alexander chose an etude by Paul JeanJean and Luciano Berio’s "Sequenza," and Mr. Willard tended to a Dowland group -performed on the lute- and Brindle’s "El Polifemo de Oro." Such pleasing and diverting music hardly calls for much comment, except perhaps Mr. Rorem’s nine-movement suite composed in 1977, each section inspired by a quote from Shakespeare’s play. Probably more than the other pieces on the program, this one exploited the expressive potential and contrasting tonal colors of the two instruments most effectively; the delicate tracery of the melodic lines also captured the various moods of the drama in a very winning fashion.

Both players performed with more than sufficient technical assurance to bring off such tricky assignments as the virtuoso Berio and Brindle works. More than that, Miss Alexander and Mr. Willard are a highly compatible duo, as they obviously enjoy making music as much as a team. And this is precisely what they did, with a considerable amount of charm and unfailing sensitivity for every stylistic requirement. Peter G. Davis


Willard performs solidly in recital at CWRU

By Robert Finn Music Critic

Jerry Willard, who lived in Cleveland and taught guitar here not too many years ago, returned Friday night for a recital at Case Western Reserve University's Alien Medical Library Building. The event, co-sponsored by the Dick Lurie Guitar Studio and WCLV Radio, was a benefit for Rainey Institute, the music school at E. 55th St. and Superior Ave. operated by the Cleveland Music School Settlement. Willard offered a nice mix of old and fairly new music. After an introductory bow to Manuel de Falla, he avoided for the rest of his well-attended program the familiar roster of Spanish guitar recitals. No Sor, Turina or Albeniz. In their place we heard Dowland, LeRoy and Each from the history books and Leo Brouwer, Hans Werner Henze and Britten from the present day. Willard is an unpretentious player with a good technique. Playing from the music, he concentrates on line, phrasing and elegant sound rather than on virtuosity for its own sake. The pieces by Brouwer and Henze that he played in fact offered scarcely anything at all to those in search of virtuoso display, though they were by no means technically easy to play. Throughout the concert, Willard's rhythm was quite steady. Only in fast passages would an occasional note be dropped. For the two oldest items on his program -- a set of branles by Adrian LeRoy and five marvelous pieces by John Dowland, Willard exchanged his guitar for a lute, which he plays with equal facility. The Dowland's pieces, including the "King of Denmark's Galliard," were the musical and technical high point of the evening. In the brilliant concluding "Fantasia," Willard did have a chance to show off a little. The audience loved it, and it was certainly fine playing. One wonders why Willard played the Bach E minor lute suite on his guitar, since he had used the lute earlier in the program. The E minor suite is, of course, often played on the guitar, but it would have been worthwhile to hear it for once on the instrument for which it was conceived. In the Bach as elsewhere, Willard showed a nice ability to suggest contrapuntal lines even when they are not completely spelled out in the music. The three Henze pieces were excerpts from that composer's "Kammermusik." They are striking pieces that show off both the performer's agility and some of the guitar's less exploited sonic possibilities. They are an attractive addition to the rather limited guitar repertory. Britten was represented by five dances from his opera "Gloriana." These are not very characteristic Britten, since he was consciously evoking an earlier historic time, but they are most pleasant to listen to and Willard played them with considerable flair. To his enthusiastic crowd Willard offered two encores, beginning unconventionally with a nifty guitar arrangement of "April Showers."