Artist Interview: Jason Vieaux, guitar

By Erik Petersons on December 17, 2012

Fast becoming a Philadelphia favorite, Jason Vieaux has been called one of the “youngest stars of the guitar world” by the New York Times. His position as head of the guitar department at the Curtis Institute of Music provided a natural opportunity to collaborate with soprano Sarah Shafer, a rising star at Curtis who has recently burst onto the vocal scene. Jason sat down with us recently to discuss their joint recital at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Sunday, January 13th.

Erik Petersons: For this concert, you will be performing solo and with Sarah Shafer. Where did your artistic collaborations with her originate? 

Jason Vieaux: I believe she was suggested by PCMS! We haven't worked together yet, so I look forward to a new collaboration.

EP: You will present a set of continuous variations by Benjamin Britten based off a song, written for voice and lute, by the English composer John Dowland. Following this, you and Sarah will perform four songs by Dowland himself.  What can the audience listen for between these two works?

JV: I'll do a short spoken intro for Britten's solo work, "Nocturnal, Op. 70", where I'll demonstrate a couple examples of how every idea or motive in the 17-minute work is derived from the Dowland lute song from which it's inspired  ("Come Heavy Sleep"). Then Sarah will sing the actual song, with the lute accompaniment, arranged for guitar, of course. We'll round out our Dowland song set with a few other selections, "Come Again", etc.

EP: Your program finishes with Devil’s Strum, by Dan Visconti — a piece you co-commissioned with Guitars International in 2010. What was it like working with Dan? What is it like to introduce a new piece like this to an audience?

JV: Well, it's a piece that definitely breaks the "fourth wall", if you will. There's quite a lot of percussion in it, and it is a musical representation of the time-honored American Blues myth of the blues musician who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for magical powers on their instrument, fame, fortune, etc. Dan and I had a couple Skype meetings where we were able to work out some of the logistical details in performing the work.

EP: Can you talk a little about the beginning of your days as a guitarist? Who or what were some of your earliest inspirations?

JV: Musically, I'd say that my first musical exposure was to the Beatles, Seals and Crofts, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Supertramp, and a whole lot of soul and R&B from the 60s, as well as modern jazz. That was when I was 3 years old and a bit after; my parents' vinyl, basically. It wasn't until my classical guitar teacher, Jeremy Sparks, started training me at 8 years old that I began to learn the language (not just the technique) of playing and listening to classical music. Performers like Julian Bream, John Williams, and David Russell were big inspirations, and then in high school I really began to lean more towards orchestral music; Beethoven, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky...but also Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Floyd, Public Enemy, Quest. In college, my love for jazz then really blossomed, and then I was just all over the place after that -- the floodgates opened! Between my theory training at the Cleveland Institute of Music and all the jazz I was listening to and playing, I could really get into an avant-garde post-punk group like Shudder To Think and have fun analyzing the chord clusters they were using. I was a total music nerd by that point, still am.

Jason Vieaux appears with soprano Sarah Shafer on Sunday, January 13th at 3 pm  at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For tickets and information, visit the concert page or call the PCMS Box Office at 215.569.8080.