Masterfully Unique

Is there a living classical guitarist more innovative than Paul Galbraith?


While sensitivity of touch and other subjective nuances inspire long-winded debates on classical-guitar message boards, one thing’s certain: there’s no classical guitarist alive today with the unusual technical innovation of 46-year-old Paul Galbraith. With his eight-string positioned vertically like a cello, Galbraith performs with the guitar’s metal endpin atop a resonating wooden box. An angled bridge gives his instrument a wider range, and his hand positions allow for more nimble, formal playing, while his lyrical sound is amplified from the floor.

For Galbraith, though, it isn’t enough to transform the instrument (his was made in collaboration with the great luthier David Rubio, of whom Julian Bream was fond); the Scottish-born musician has also been transforming the repertoire. Or, rather, adapting it. Galbraith’s 1998 arrangements of the complete solo Bach Violin Sonatas and Partitas garnered a Grammy nomination, and his other arrangements include piano works by Haydn, Debussy and Ravel. A piano has seven octaves; a guitar, four. Whom does that hinder? Not Galbraith.

Galbraith’s talent was introduced to the area through a much-talked-about church concert in Occidental, and his subsequent performance of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with the Santa Rosa Symphony caused an incredible tectonic activity among classical fans. His anticipated return comes this weekend with the Pacific Chamber Symphony in Napa. After Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony no. 3, a plain-looking man will walk onstage with his cello-guitar, put his feet on six-inch rests, position himself above his strange wooden box and amaze the crowd with a repeat performance of Rodrigo’s Concierto. Afterward, there will be no debate: Galbraith’s alone in his field. Be there on Sunday, May 23, at the Napa Valley Opera House to see it. 1030 Main St., Napa. 2pm. $30&–$35. 707.226.7372.

Sonoma County Library