A Great Day for the Yiddish

by Mark Greenberg
June 2004

David Leisner and Frederic Hand, guitars
March 20, 2004
The NYCCGS Pro Arte Guitar Series
American Youth Hostel

In the very wake of St. Paddy’s Day, David Leisner and Fred Hand, whether by design or by post-sabbatical synchronicity, presented programs built around Jewish themes on Saturday eve, March 20, 2004, at the Chapel of the American Youth Hostel. Are these guys getting ready to play the Y or what?

David Leisner started the evening with a set of four short solos for guitar. Beginning with a charming neo-baroque preludio, he progressed through to a final dance in the shape of a slur study. Leisner has recovered well from his hand injury and showed fine chops.

Leisner’s centerpiece was Acrobats, a work that takes off from a story by Nathan Englander, pardon the pun. The story (and the music) has to do with a bunch of Hasids masquerading as acrobats to avoid the death camps. Scored for flute and guitar, it is an affecting work — though the middle movement opens and concludes with ear-splitting screams from the flute. (These flute fortissimos represent the acrobats’ flashbacks but also did induce at least one attack of tinnitus in the audience.) Most beautiful was the concluding movement — “In the Air” — with its exquisite setting of Ivan Pippichuk stuck in like a sweet, sweet raisin turned to music. Leisner’s concluding set of pieces for clarinet, flute and guitar Introverts and Extroverts — confirm the obvious: Leiser is highly sensitive and intelligent, as a person, player and composer.

Which brings us to Fred Hand.

Let me say at the outset that it is impossible for me to imagine anyone playing more beautifully on the guitar — or trying more passionately to communicate with his audience directly, and without pretense. Hand has expressed his admiration for Leonard Bernstein because of the immense amount of heart he brought to music. The same could be said of Fred Hand. It is not for nothing that one of his finest albums (and pieces) is called Heartsong.

It is therefore fairly pointless to give a review; Fred Hand — like anybody else I suppose — no doubt has good days and bad days, but he would be the one to tell you about that. He appears to be among those few who can do whatever they want on the guitar — and with the apparent speed of thought.

Beyond this, it must be said that the new work he presented — Sephardic Songs — seems exceptionally fine even for Fred Hand. Here what one wonders is whether anyone else can play it with such grace, with its gnarly left hand jazz-type chords.

Okay, I’ll say it, even if this means the entire LAGQ come after me: This was the best guitar concert I’ve heard all year!