A rough guide for the Michael Kamen’s Guitar concerto

A rough guide for the Michael Kamen’s Guitar concerto

I recently found Michael Kamen’s concerto for electric guitar and orchestra. As a conductor and former guitar player, I never really had big hopes to ever be able to play as a soloist with an orchestra. But now, things are different!!!

The music is quite good! If you haven’t listened to it yet… you should! I see it as one of those “honey” orchestral pieces, that attracts new people to the concert hall giving us the opportunity, to convert them into regular attendees and classical music lovers. We need to demystify classical music!

I hope that by learning this concerto, I can bring my experience as a classical musician to the performance, avoiding all the mistakes I see other soloists do when they get in front of an orchestra. (from the communication perspective of a conductor)

From my initial research, I leave you with some guidelines that I am using my self, to help any guitar player aiming to prepare this concerto as well.

 

Get a strat with single coils

The strat guitar sound is the sound of Clapton and the sound of Gilmour with who Kamen worked in the Wall and about face. Kamen probably had that timber in mind.

Have a neck with 22 frets and keep Standard tuning

The highest real note is a D and guitars with 21 frets will simply not get the job done. These are notes you can’t bend because of the context of these passages.

Style

Listen to the style of Eric Clapton playing blues and to the atmosphere of Lethal Weapon soundtrack (composed by Kamen and played by Clapton). This concerto is full of Blues licks that sometimes are not very well notated (sometimes you need to have a few bends to make it sound right).

Listen to Let’s get Metaphysical from David Gilmour’s album about face. It will give you a few stylistic clues since it was written with Kamen aswell.

Respect articulations

This is my religion. It’s part of my school of thought and I find important to bring it to this piece. The music is very well written for the guitar and full of specific articulations that should be respected.

There will be, however, some minor adjustments that must be made in terms of bending to make it more bluesy and less like Aranjuez. Don’t rely on these, and only make them when you find absolutely necessary.

Tapping and sul tasto finger Technique

Be ready to practice your tapping technique for the second movement. There are some slurs with impractical intervals, that if you want to be respectful to Mr. Kamen, taping is the only way to achieve them. This is not part Clapton’s guitar technique, but that’s what Mr. Kamen wrote.

A classic valve amp and effect pedals

In this piece, the louder the orchestra gets, the more overdriven/distorted the guitar will get. You can easily get away with a single amp, no pedals, and use the volume knob on your guitar do roll in some volume and gain. Maybe a clean boost in front of the amp for some more gain and grit.

(This is just what I am thinking at the moment for myself since the only effects mentioned in the score are: heavy distortion, with slight distortion, screaming distortion, light distortion, screaming lead tone, with much heavier distortion).

Don’t forget to study Tomoyasu Hotei’s performance:

He is the only one that, officially, recorded the concerto. He also used a bunch of other effects like octave, fuzz, delay and synth which means that Kamen wasn’t against the use of other guitar effects, even if not mentioned in the score.

It’s far from perfect in terms of respect for the official score and a bunch of cuts were made for reasons that are unknown to me.

Nevertheless, it is a great rendition of this work and will for sure provide you with a lot of insight.

 

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