Modesto Symphony Orchestra reaches out with a 'Guitar Hero' contest

01/02/2009 6:27 AM

01/02/2009 10:26 AM

Think the symphony isn't cool? Think it's for the blue-haired and blue-blooded? Think it's stiff and standoffish?

Think again.

And while you're at it, think "Guitar Hero."

Yes, that "Guitar Hero." The video game du jour that continues to captivate youngsters, teenagers and not just a few adults who haven't forgotten their own one-time ax-man -- or ax-woman -- aspirations.

The Modesto Symphony Orchestra and Best Buy in Modesto are holding a "Guitar Hero" tournament Jan. 10. The event will help promote the orchestra's next concert, "Lasting Impressions," which features guest soloist and guitar virtuoso Manuel Barrueco.

"We were looking for ways to make the symphony a little more accessible and to excite people about classical music," said Maureen Quinn, marketing assistant for MSO. "What better way than to reach across generational divides?"

The tournament-style competition gets under way Jan. 10 at 8 a.m. at the Sisk Road Best Buy. Not only will the champ win an acoustic guitar autographed by Barrueco, he or she also will get a chance to do rock-star battle against the guest conductor for the concert, Laura Jackson.

The concert program, "Lasting Impressions," focuses on three lands that were dear to the hearts of composers: Mexico, Spain and Scotland. The concert runs next weekend at the Gallo Center for the Arts.

First up is a piece from the 1930s written by the "Mexican Stravinsky," Silvestre Revueltas. "Ocho por Radio" is a lighthearted depiction of listening to a faulty radio in Mexico.

"He spoofs every type of popular music that's on every type of radio

station," said guest conductor Jackson, who recently completed an appointment as assistant conductor and American Conducting Fellow of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. "It's a humorous, quirky kind of piece."

The concert continues with Joaquín Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez," a 1930s guitar piece inspired by the 16th-century summer palace of the king of Spain.

"It's certainly one of the most played," said guest soloist Barrueco. "It has a hauntingly beautiful middle movement. It's one of the most beautiful melodies one can hear. It's also a very difficult piece for the guitar."

A native of Cuba who has lived in the United States since 1967, Barrueco teaches at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore.

The program wraps up with Felix Mendelssohn's 1842 Symphony No. 3 "Scottish." The German-born Mendelssohn wrote the piece after he toured Scotland at age 20.

"It's sort of Mozart light," Jackson said. "It's classical but yet it has a lot of drama and angst from the Romantic era. It's a wonderful sort of bridge between the classic and Romantic eras."

Barrueco said he is looking forward to performing in Modesto. He didn't mention whether he likes playing "Guitar Hero."

The "Guitar Hero" tournament is just one of several innovative ideas planned by MSO to integrate technology into its programs and reach out to audiences who might not otherwise engage classical music.

"We're looking at new ways to get people excited about what the symphony is doing," Quinn said.

People already are signing up at Best Buy to participate in the tournament, she said. "The community is really embracing it."

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