Guitar Fusion at Twents Gitaar Festival
Location: Wilminktheater, Enschede – The Netherlands
Date: May 26th 2017
Featuring: Izhar Elias, Adrian Elissen, Eva Stegeman, Fernando Cordas, and Maestro Florian “Morean” Maier
Review by Thomas Niehof
Photos by Lindy Balduk
Thomas Niehof is a musician, composer, and producer from the Netherlands. He first started taking music lessons at age six and got into extreme metal in his early teen years. In early 2008 he started taking guitar lessons from German guitar virtuoso Christian Muenzner (ex-Necrophagist, ex-Obscura, Alkaloid, Eternity’s End). His strong motivation to understand music to a deeper level resulted in the guitar lessons becoming lessons in advanced musical theory and composition. In the meantime, he started to experiment with many different styles of music and musical instruments. In 2011 Thomas auditioned for the audio engineering course at the Herman Brood Academie in Utrecht, the Netherlands. In Summer 2016, Niehof graduated and has been working on various musical projects since.
On Friday May 26th, I went to see Guitar Fusion at Twents Gitaar Festival in Enschede, the Netherlands. If you take a single good look at the list of articles on the main page of this website, you’ll notice immediately that The Black Siren is dedicated to Metal in all it’s forms. So, you might ask ‘what does a project led by classical guitar virtuoso Izhar Elias has to with this?’
The short answer is that Guitar Fusion isn’t just about classical guitar. This collective of four incredible guitar players and one violin player is dedicated to break all boundaries of guitar music as you know it.
Forget about ‘first there’s a subtle acoustic part and then Florian plays some heavy chords on his electic guitar to add some metal.’ Think of science fiction movies and alien noises. Think of weird squealing and humming. Evil and unsettling athmospheres all over the place.
Acoustic guitars played in a way that you’d expect from Yngwie Malmsteen or Marty Friedman. You know: the furious, I want these notes to light the guitar on fire’ type of playing.
Playing music that requires you to use a bouncy ball on a stick is one thing. Making it sound good, making actual music with it: that is the power of Guitar Fusion. Keep reading to find out how they achieved this.
Now, let’s get a bit more into detail about these boundaries and how they are completely obliterated in a single concert: Izhar Elias and Fernando Cordas take care of the classical guitar parts. Adrian Elissen adds enchanting, energetic flamenco guitar sounds that make sitting still very hard. Florian Magnus Maier – to some Metalheads better known as Morean (Dark Fortress, Noneuclid, Alkaloid) adds his heavy sounding electric guitar sounds, as well as weird, otherwordly noises that could be part of a new Star Wars movie.
Eva Stegeman is the only ‘non-guitarist’ in Guitar Fusion. Her contributions on the violin are no joke. Until this concert, I didn’t even know it was possible to bow strings at high speed in one direction while seemlessly changing to pizzicato (plucking the strings) on the way back. Doing this the right way can be hard enough while keeping the bow in your hand. Fast pizzicato parts will make any average violin player hate the composer who wrote the piece.
Playing this high tempo phrase, combining bowing and pizzicato is seriously impressive. Stegeman made it look easy. This is the level of skill the audience witnessed during the entire concert.
The music played this night unites classical music, flamenco and Heavy Metal in a very unusual, unexpected way. It is this odd approach that makes it sound very natural to me. Instead of throwing in every cheesy stereotype of the aforementioned styles of music, these pieces show that a lot of time and effort was put into them.
The compositions and arrangements have been fine-tuned and balanced to convince experienced listeners. By utilizing the strengths and unique characters of each instruments, the unusual combination of instruments works really well.
While avoiding clichés, the music makes sense instantly. Even if you don’t recognize a sound or playing style, the sound itself may have the intensity needed to serve the music.
To top this off, the overall performance is very entertaining;They know they’re making weird music and they don’t mind making a few jokes about it.
This aspect of fun is important throughout the show. It’s not ‘just a group of people playing their tunes’. After Guitar Fusion was introduced by the the festival’s MC, the stage was left empty for a bit. The first guitar notes didn’t come from the stage, but all the way from the back of the audience. Elias and Cordas played a classical theme as they walked towards the stage, with the audience between them.
Due to some large pillars blocking the view and the sound, the first few bars weren’t completely spot on in terms of timing, but this was quickly resolved as they got closer to the stage.
After a while, Elissen joined the fun, creating a lively and energetic atmosphere. The playing style and dynamics that are part of flamenco perfectly complements the classical melodies Elias and Cordas started. Just when things seemed to fall into place, both doors to the backstage area opened and all hell broke loose.
The nice classical music switched gears and stepped on the gas. Maier entered the stage wielding his famous B.C. Rich Stealth guitar: an impressive looking guitar that just screams ‘my death Metal melts faces’.
Stegeman entered the other side of the stage, obviously enjoying the music, judging by the look on her face. While Florian added some growling chords, Eva added even more tension to the performance with her violin.
This opener set the tone for the rest of the evening. Taking a quick look at the rest of the audience, I noticed many confused and surprised faces. Despite the warning, it was clear most people had no idea what just happened.
From this moment, the collective would play adaptations of well-known pieces, as well as new arrangements of their own work. Most of the material that was performed would get an introduction, explaining the origin of the piece, or some notes on the adaptation by Guitar Fusion.
One of the highlights of the evening was the surprising performance of Maier’s Schattenspiel, which the original arrangements were written for acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and an entire symphonic orchestra.
Izhar explained how well the piece worked when played on just the two guitars. Maier used his Moog guitar (in case you’re a guitar nerd like me, look this up now and thank me later) to make sounds you didn’t know an electric guitar could make. ‘Schattenspiel’ is German for ‘shadow play’ and the music is all about the relation between an object and it’s shadow. These roles are portrayed by Izhar and Florian. As time progresses, the shadow (Florian) starts to deviate more from Izhar’s ‘movements’.
When I saw the performance of the original Schattenspiel as part of the documentary ‘Metal Dude in Concert Hall’ I instantly fell in love with the music. Needless to say, I’m very happy a second part was made. I’ve heard parts of this as well.
Comparing that performance to this stripped down rearrangement, I’m impressed by how powerful the interaction between just two guitars sounds without being backed up by an orchestra; It reminded me of Modest Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ being played on piano either with or without an orchestra. In case of Mussorgsky’s piece, I even prefer it to be played on solo piano.
I think it’s safe to say Schattenspiel Suite II works well in both arrangements. A recording of Schattenspiel Suite II with orchestra was released on Izhar Elias’ recent album ‘Guitar Vibes’.”
I really enjoyed the Tarantella they played. As explained by Adrian Elissen, this is music people would dance to after being bit by a tarantula. The music would require you to dance so energetically you would sweat out the poison, thus healing yourself in the process.
The performance of Tomi Räisänen’s Liquid Mosaic was very unique as well. This piece for two acoustic guitars was played by playing the strings with various objects, as well as dragging a bouncy ball on a stick along the back of the guitar. Delayed playback of all these sounds after heavy processing added the last bit of insanity to confuse even the most experienced fans of experimental music.
Izhar and Fernando remained relatively calm throughout most of the evening, but during this piece they went absolutely crazy. How often have you seen people flipping their guitars, playing percussion on them, then flipping them back just to frantically scrape the strings with a coin? Probably never, except if you’ve seen this piece before.
In case the audience wasn’t shocked enough by this madness, Guitar Fusion also performed a special arrangement of ‘Into the Light’ by Florian’s band, Noneuclid. Most people in the audience had never experienced Death Metal before, so they were in for a surprise.
Maier explained the style of music for a bit and said he had rearranged the music so that the energy and impact of the music would remain. Given the dark nature of the music, I think it was received quite well by the crowd.
During the applause he said something like ‘well, that wasn’t so bad, was it?’ Given the audience’s enthusiasm, they agreed.
Overall, this evening was an incredible experience. The audience wasn’t very large, but I think most people enjoyed the evening. If you’re into experimental music and crazy crossovers, I highly recommend attending a Guitar Fusion concert if you ever get the chance.
The music is interesting for anyone with an open mind.
If you’re a musician or a composer, without doubt, a Guitar Fusion concert will inspire you to try a lot of new things. The audience was a mixture of all kinds of people, young kids up to people who could have been these kids’ grandparents. The response from the crowd was positive, so I think this music works well for people without any specific experience in music, as well.
There are been multiple examples of Florian’s work sealing the gap between classical music, metal and various other styles as well. I think Guitar Fusion, with their unique sound and approach offer an accessible, fun counterpart to this. This informal setting with jokes and anecdotes, people entering and leaving the stage depending on their part in the performance, all work very well. I would love to see a similar approach applied to extreme music.
Think of electric guitars, fretted and fretless bass, synthesizers, drum computers. Of course various acoustic instruments could be included as well. I think breaking the boundaries between metal and electronic music is long overdue.
Guitar Fusion utilizes a concept worth expanding in more directions. Hopefully, we will get to enjoy a lot more of their music in the future.