A classical, acoustic experience

The guitarist immediately sat down on a black stool in the middle of the stage and set his guitar on his knee. Without a word to the crowd, he began playing his first song of the night. The delicate and invested way in which he plucked each string in his guitar grabbed every ear in the audience right from the start.

On Friday night, Sonoma State University hosted the talented classical guitarist, William Kanengiser in the recently renovated Schroeder Hall. Kanengiser was greeted the enthusiastic crowd, eager to hear his world-renowned talent.

“It is great to be here tonight,” said Kanengiser, immediately after he played his first song. “This space is wonderful, I feel like I’m playing inside of a guitar.”

Kanengiser split his program into two parts. The first, titled “Music of Spain,” featured songs written by a variety of artists such as Manuel de Falla, Francisco Tárrega, Fernando Sor and Joaquin Turina. 

From the title of the first part of the program and the names of the writers, one can imagine that they might hear fast rhythms paired with flamenco techniques.  But what audience members experienced was a visual performance as well as an auditory one.

Kanengiser attacked each note with a delicate yet playful technique while simultaneously using facial expressions to set the members of the audience right in the scene of the music.

For example, when he played the three songs “Marieta!” “Lágrima” and “Maria” in a row, all of which written by Tárrega, Kanengiser was able to tell the story of the man who would call out to his wife Marieta and cry for her absence before being reminded of his wife’s playful personality by his daughter Maria. 

Audience members were able to match the tone changes from happy to sad with correlating melodies.

Kanengiser ended the first half of his performance with an animated song, “Fantasia (Sevillana),” by composer Turina. The song, which began and ended with a single strum, kept audience members at the edge of their seat as Kanengiser portrayed his ability to master crescendos and descendos. 

Throughout the song he moved his fingers quickly and gracefully back and forth to high and low notes. The audience gave him a standing ovation.

The performer’s return to the stage for the second half of the performance featured a shift from Spanish to North American music. Kanengiser featured artists from Cuba and Mexico and three artists from the U.S.

Kanengiser put audience members in a happy trance with two Cuban folksong arrangements originally composed by Léo Brouwer, which resembled a mother singing her child to sleep with a lullaby. 

He then woke the crowd back up with music from Fred Hand and Brian Head in an effort to stir the crowd’s jazz hands.  

The guitarist was able to deliver the bluesy improv style of jazz music on the strings of his acoustic guitar with the songs, “The Magic Serenade” and “Brookland Boogie.”

For Eric Cabalo, the classic guitar and ensemble guitar pedagogy at Sonoma State, seeing William Kanengiser perform right in his own backyard was a dream come true.

“He [Kanengiser] is someone I have always admired and it was wonderful to hear him play some wonderfully technical songs in such a great space,” said Cabalo. Cabalo particularly enjoyed Kanengiser’s rendition of “Missing Her” by Fred Hand, as it is a “great example of combining classical and jazz elements in one song.”

Audience members found themselves both entertained and impressed by the abilities of a guitarist who used the simplicity and intimacy of the setting to grab listeners from the very first strum, only to leave them in awe of the beauty of the music created by one man and his guitar.