Beyond the Notes 2018

Guest Artist

David Leisner, guitarist, composer, and author


David Leisner is an extraordinarily versatile musician with a multi-faceted career as an electrifying performing artist, a distinguished composer, and a master teacher.

“Among the finest guitarists of all time”, according to American Record Guide, David Leisner’s career began auspiciously with top prizes in both the 1975 Toronto and 1981 Geneva International Guitar Competitions. His recent seasons have taken him around the US, including his solo debut with the Atlanta Symphony, a major tour of Australia and New Zealand, and debuts and reappearances in China, Japan, the Philippines, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, the U.K., Italy, Czech Republic, Greece, Puerto Rico and Mexico. An innovative three-concert series at Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall included the first all-Bach guitar recital in New York’s history, and currently he is the Artistic Director of Guitar Plus, a New York series devoted to chamber music with the guitar. He has also performed chamber music at the Santa Fe, Vail Valley, Rockport, Cape and Islands, Bargemusic, Bay Chamber, Maui, Portland, Sitka and Angel Fire Festivals, with Zuill Bailey, Tara O’Connor, Eugenia Zukerman, Kurt Ollmann, Lucy Shelton, Ida Kavafian, the St. Lawrence, Enso and Vermeer Quartets and many others. Celebrated for expanding the guitar repertoire, David Leisner has premiered works by many important composers, including David Del Tredici, Virgil Thomson, Ned Rorem, Philip Glass, Richard Rodney Bennett, Peter Sculthorpe and Osvaldo Golijov, while championing the works of neglected 19th-century guitar composers J.K. Mertz and Wenzeslaus Matiegka.

A featured recording artist for Azica Records, Leisner has released 9 highly acclaimed CDs, including the most recent, Arpeggione with cellist Zuill Bailey, and Facts of Life, featuring the premiere recordings of commissioned works by Del Tredici and Golijov.  Naxos produced his recording of the Hovhaness Guitar Concerto with Gerard Schwarz and the Berlin Radio Orchestra. Other CDs include the Koch recording of Haydn Quartet in D with the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and Hovhaness Spirit of Trees for Telarc with harpist Yolanda Kondonassis. And Mel Bay Co. released a solo concert DVD called Classics and Discoveries.

 Mr. Leisner is also a highly respected composer noted for the emotional and dramatic power of his music. Fanfare magazine described it as “rich in invention and melody, emotionally direct, and beautiful”. South Florida Classical Review called him “an original and arresting compositional voice.” Recent commissioners include the baritone Wolfgang Holzmair, Arc Duo, Stones River Chamber Players (TN), Fairfield Orchestra (CT), Red Cedar Chamber Music (IA), and the Twentieth Century Unlimited Series (NM). Recordings of his works are currently available on the Sony Classical, ABC, Dorian, Azica, Cedille, Centaur, Town Hall, Signum, Acoustic Music, Athena and Barking Dog labels. The Cavatina Duo’s recording of his complete works for flute and guitar, Acrobats (Cedille) was released to exceptionally strong reviews. His compositions are mostly published by Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co., as well as AMP/G. Schirmer, Doberman-Yppan and Columbia Music.

David Leisner is the co-chair of the guitar department at the Manhattan School of Music. Primarily self-taught as both guitarist and composer, he briefly studied guitar with John Duarte, David Starobin and Angelo Gilardino and composition with Richard Winslow, Virgil Thomson, Charles Turner and David Del Tredici.



February 2nd, 2018  -  7:30pm

51 Walden Performing Arts Center

51 Walden St.

Concord, MA 01742


Guest Artist: David Leisner, guitarist, composer, and author


You asked...?

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Q: What was the most exciting venue you played in this past year and what did you play?    

DAVID:  I can’t think of a particularly exciting venue  - I must get more interesting concerts! It does, however, make me think of the time I was playing a summer concert outdoors in New England.  I remember playing Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal.  At the quietest moment in the piece, a mosquito decided to land on my knee and take its dinner from my blood.  I wanted so badly to slap it, but of course had to continue playing the very quiet, delicate music.                                                      


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Q: What was the most exciting venue you played in this past year and what did you play? 

SARAH:  I can think of an exciting venue that I recently played at and then a very unique one that is coming up.  I was in Washington D.C. last weekend and played at the National Gallery of Art with my quintet, SYBARITE5.  The space was in the most gorgeous rotunda and there was greenery and flowers everywhere  - kind of like paying in a jungle! Coming up, I'm going on a very exciting adventure. I'll be performing with my string trio, Trifecta, aboard a cruise ship for the Azamara Club Cruises and traveling to Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand!  I Can't say that I've ever performed on a floating venue before!    

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Q: I am Interested in the [stage] set  - does it travel with you? Pedestals, etc.

SARAH: I wish it did!  I specifically designed the stage set up for this space.  The black and white screens are a new addition, which I'm loving!

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Q: Tell us about your life growing up: what made you get interested in music.  Do/did you play other instruments? What is your family like?                        


DAVID: I came from a broken family.  My parents divorced when I was 5 years old, and my mother was mentally unstable.  When music came into my young and troubled life, it was my savior. When I was 9, my mother wanted me to play the violin, so I tried it.  After a half-year of sawing away at Mary Had a Little Lamb and sounding quite awful, I gave up and looked for another instrument. Since we didn’t have much money and a guitar could be rented until it was fully paid for, it seemed the most practical choice, and I liked the sound.

Q: Tell us about your life growing up: what made you get interested in music.  Do/did you play other instruments? What is your family like?

SARAH: Both my parents played violin when I was growing up and have always been unconditionally supportive of my music.  The reason I started playing violin was actually because of my older brother, Eric. Eric was taking violin lessons and I begged and begged my parents to get me my own violin so I could be as cool as Eric :)  Shortly thereafter, he switched instruments and has since quit playing all musical instruments (except maybe the kazoo?). So I'm now a professional violinist and he works in technology.

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Q: How often do you and David (or any collaborator) practice a piece all the way through before performing?    

DAVID: Quite a few times.  Since Sarah and I are pretty quick studies, already in our third rehearsal, we decided to do a run-through of the entire program, just to gauge where we stood with each piece and to begin to get a sense of the pacing this program required.  

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Q: Guitar - who made it?  How did you find it?     

DAVID: My guitar was made for me by one of the truly great American guitar makers, John Gilbert, in 1982.  I had heard a couple of guitarists play his instruments and fell in love with the sound and feel of those beautiful guitars.  Since 1982, it has been my one and only guitar.    

Q: What do the left and right pedals do on your "loop"?    

SARAH: The pedals on my loop machine enable me to start and stop the loops, so the pedal sort of acts as a record button.  Each time I want to start something new (aka a new loop), I have to begin and end it with the pedal. However, whatever I've just recorded will keep playing so I'm able to layer as many layers as I want, essentially turning myself into an orchestra!    

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Q: I believe both your parents play the violin. Did you play together when you were little?                 


SARAH: Yes, actually!  Believe it or not, there was a Whitney family string quartet for a very short time!  When I was in middle school my brother played cello and there was one time the four of us performed as a quartet together!  I believe it was a tango and may have involved us throwing a rose into the audience at the end. Typical tricks for a family band, I guess...!