Reviews

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Guitarist displays awesome talent

The Charleston Post and Courier reviews a performance at Piccolo Spoleto
Classical guitarist Christopher Berg gave a stellar display of guitar virtuosity Tuesday night Performing on the Fretwork and Folk Piccolo Spoleto series at St. Johannes Lutheran Church, he drew a near-capacity audience that gave him a standing ovation at the conclusion of the program.

Berg is director of the classical guitar program at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and has performed widely throughout the state and nation. Opening his program with Aria con Variazioni detta “La Frescobalda” by Girolamo Frescobaldi, he immediately demonstrated that not only was he a master of his instrument but had fine sensitivity.

All this was shown in even greater measure in the two movements from J.S. Bach’s “Partita in A minor. BWV 997” which followed. The speed and clarity of each note was impressive in the Fugue movement.

A tender and simple song, “Liebeslied, Op. 13. No. 4” by Johann Kaspar Mertz, was a melodic love song as expressed by the guitar. It provided a nice contrast to the three works which followed. Under the title “The Black Decameron” by Leo Brouwer were “The Harp of the Warrior,” “The Flight of the Lovers through the Valley of the Echoes” and “The Ballad of the Young Maiden in Love.”

The music of the second half of the program was even more complex and demanding than the first. Included were “The Cathedral” by Agustín Barrios Mangore, in two movements. Andante Religioso and Allegro Solemne. Here was a complex interweaving of melodies at a rapid tempo with his right hand, while sustaining a tricky virtuoso rhythmic pattern and chords with his left. His technique was awesome.

Works by Antonio Lauro — “Maria Carolina” and “Angostura” — added a bit of dance rhythm to the program, and were followed by a Barcarola titled “Julia Florida” by Mangore.

The closing work, “Sunburst” by Andrew York, drew even greater demands in fast fingering, with wide and long stretches demanded of the artist's fast nimble fingers. The sustained applause and standing ovation earned the charming “Lullaby” as the encore. The audience left in fine spirits, extremely well- satisfied.

—Claire McPhail
Post and Courier Music Critic

Classical guitarist engaging, masterful

The Charleston Post and Courier reviews a performance at Piccolo Spoleto
Piccolo’s Fretwork Concert Series presented classical guitarist Christopher Berg at St. Johannes Episcopal Church Friday night. The full house was treated to an outstanding performance. Berg has received a number of prestigious awards, and is most deserving of recognition.

He began the program with three pieces by Spanish composers.

From the opening passages of Aguado’s “Andante and Rondo,” his technical mastery of his instrument was evident. He achieved a clear, expressive tone that immediately engaged the audience.

The second selection, Tarrega’s “Capricho Arabe,” was the stellar performance of the evening.

The piece is one of Berg’s favorites and he played it passionately. His lyrical phrasing and rich tone exemplified the romantic potential of the guitar in the hands of a master.

The second portion of the concert featured Berg’s own compositions. “Lullaby Blue” had a pleasing melody that was developed well.

Berg's compositions should been interspersed with the works of the Spanish composers rather than comprising the entire final segment.

The final piece, “DayStar’s Dance,” was the best of Berg’s compositions, and ended the concert with a flourish.

The quick tempo and rapid staccato notes evoked the shimmering quality of light.

The thrilled audience responded with a sustained ovation in appreciation of an exceptional performance.

—Roger Bellow
The Post and Courier reviewer

Berg's varied recital worth the squeeze

The State Newspaper reviews a concert at the Columbia Museum of Art
Guitarist Christopher Berg’s Sunday afternoon recital at the Columbia Museum of Art’s Kress Gallery left the standing-room-only crowd eager for more. Music lovers scrambled for seats and lined the gallery’s anterooms to hear the young guitarist, an associate professor of music at the University South Carolina and recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Solo Recitalist Fellowship.

It was well worth the scrunch.

Berg presented a balanced, lively program, including Girolamo Frescobaldi’s “Aria con Variazioni detta ‘La Frescobalda.’” Antonio Lauro’s “Three Venezuelan Waltzes,” and Agustín Barrios’ “Julia Florida—Barcarola.”

Berg’s finely honed sensitivity to the guitar manifests itself in his confident, uncluttered playing, attention to detail and solid technique. Equally impressive was the balance of his program, blending the works of the old masters with more modern selections.

One of the highlights was his carefully articulated rendition of Florentine composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s “Capriccio Diabolico (Homage to Paganni), Op. 85.” Berg’s interpretation was a superb mix of strong, deft technique and emotional intensity, as he made his way through the score with considerable aplomb.

One of the more charming aspects of the afternoon was Berg’s openminded selection of compositions, perhaps the most intriguing of which was modern English composer William Walton’s “Five Bagatelles (1971).”

Berg’s flawless timing and sense of tone were equal to Walton’s task, distilling the piece's effusive qualities.

His rendition of the “Alla Cubana” was sheer delight.

In fact, there were no soft spots in Berg’s performance. He lent an emotional edge to Antonio Lauro's “Three Venezulean Waltzes” and a quiet sensuality to Agustín Barrios’ “Julia Florida—Barcarola” without lapsing into sentimentality or cliche.

The only unsatisfactory thing about Berg’s performance was that there were more people than chairs, and unfortunately, those who had a seat still didn't have an unobstructed view.

And that’s not much to complain about, now is it?

—Lynn Morris

Berg Guitar Concert Is Given High Praise

The Pilot (Southern Pines, NC) reviews a solo recital
The April 18th Weymouth Center concert was the finale of the 1992–93 Sunday afternoon series. It was a remarkable and highly successful music season. At this concert the audience was treated to an eclectic choice of composers. The covered historical period was from the 16th and on to our 20th century with touches of Baroque, classical and the divergent styles of our day. In the latter category the lively “Sunburst’” by Andrew York was uniquely interesting. In a sense its thematic material sort of echoed the assertive characteristics of our today world.

In solo recital was Christopher Berg who proved to be a master exponent of the guitar. He makes an excellent impression but does not rely on his facility or take it for granted. Every aspect of his performance was under control, an authentic model of artistic restraint. There were no dull moments. Emphasis was on lyricism. The playing from beginning to end was tunefully stylish. The ultimate result was a stately performance. This gentleman is well on his way on the road of an expanding sparkling career. For those who missed him locally he can be heard at the forthcoming Spoleto Festival in Charleston.

During his artistic formative years, in addition to basic studies at the Baltimore Peabody Conservatory, Berg participated in master classes under the guidance of the Spanish guitarist Andre Segovia.

That world renowned artist was a devoted exponent of the instrument. With enthusiasm be became its ardent champion. He encouraged and guided young aspiring players. Berg is a top example of the Segovia success story.

Until our century the repertory for classical guitar was limited. It consisted mostly of works transcribed from the antique lute and vihuela. Almost single handedly Segovia revitalized the literature. He began by producing transcriptions. He then inspired other composers to produce current material. Among the important who responded to Segovia are Falla, Rodrigo, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Ponce, Villa-Lobos, Britten and Gerhard. The Berg Generation of Guitarists now has a solid foundation upon which to build.

An important reason contributing to the success of chamber music at Weymouth is the fact it is heard at its best in a somewhat cloistered drawing room environment such as its Great Hall. It is an ideal arena. Within its confines music easily permeates the surroundings with a spirit of cultural aura. This elicits a socially graced congeniality between performer and auditors.

Heard clearly were each and every nuance no matter how subtle the tone from the Berg guitar. In a larger hall they would have evaporated thinly. Instead of the usual frustration what we experienced was relaxing and soul satisfying.

—Nicholas Chaltas
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Guitars are feast for ears

The State Newspaper reviews The Rossignol Duo
Christopher Berg and Emanuele Segre appear to have little in common, but that little bit surely is a lot. Berg, a Columbian, and Segre, who lives in Milan, Italy, are both virtuosos of the guitar. And there's one more thing they have in common: They both played recitals in Columbia at the same time Sunday afternoon.

Tough luck for Sunday concert-goers who had to make some tough choices.

My solution was to get to both, the first half of Segre’s program at the Columbia Museum of Art and the second half of the concert by Berg and Hazel Ketchum, Berg’s musical partner in the Rossignol Duo, at Ebenezer Lutheran church a few blocks away.

Segre said his recital was designed to “show the range of possibilities” for the classical guitar, and the first half of his program showcased works from the classical period.

He offered up as examples the solemn, gentle “Ciaccona” by Sylvius Leopold Weiss and J.S. Bach’s “Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, BWV 998.” played with careful fingerwork and fine shadings of light and dark, though emerging perhaps just a bit self-consciously.

The finale to the first part of his concert featured two “Rondo brillante” by Dionisio Aguado, two-movement pieces of sobriety and extroversion, the latter featuring some delightfully quick and skillful fingering with both hands.

The Rossignol Duo’s concert offered plenty of variety and the only opportunity for Columbians to hear the ultra-talented Berg on the stage this season. (He’s studying in Switzerland for the time being.)

The post-intermission portion was packed with pleasure. With a variety of expertly played guitars and lutes and the beguilingly clear voice of Ketchum, the duo alternated between instrumental pieces and those for stringed instrument and voice. With Ketchum singing and Berg accompanying on lute, they managed to breathe life into the very familiar “Greensleeves” and treated the much-less recognized “Figlio dormi” by 17th-century Italian composer Giovanni Giroamo Kapsberger with no less care.

Berg, as always, dazzled, whether with the quiet, intimate focus of “The Flatt Pavin,” the bounding exuberance of “The Queen's Treble” (partnered by the dashing instrumental work of Ketchum), or the wondrously nimble passagework in “The French King's Maske.”
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The State Newspaper reviews The Pilgrim Forest

Berg, The Pilgrim Forest
Christopher Berg, solo guitar. Laughing Heart Records LHR-617 (62 minutes): Christopher Berg long has been a welcome fixture on Columbia's music scene, as a virtuoso performer on a variety of string instruments and an outstanding teacher at the USC School of Music. His new CD, seven years in the making, reveals his considerable artistry as composer for the guitar.

The varied music on “The Pilgrim Forest” has a strong lyric and rhythmic pulse, alternately gentle and dramatic, cunningly paced. It seems very personal music, though that is not intended as any sort of derogation or to suggest any lack of accessibility for listeners who will accept this as Berg’s creative vision.

The composer has contributed brief notes to each of the 10 works on the disc which suggest a journey through a new geography with accompanying feelings of loss (“Pavane for All Souls”) and joy (“DayStar's Dance”) and reflection (“Lullaby Blue”). Berg conveys [an] exultant yet subtle control of this music, and his performance is nothing less than radiant and compelling.

In short, this is an album of powerful, personal expressiveness that should enjoy wide appeal. And it had been excellently recorded as well. Berg can be heard performing in the USC September Series concerts this month.

The Guitar Foundation of America's Soundboard reviews The Pilgrim Forest

GFA Soundboard (Fall/Winter 2001/2002)
The Pilgrim Forest is a large work for guitar composed and performed by Christopher Berg. There are 10 movements which have descriptive metaphorical or perhaps allegorical titles, but the enjoyment of the music has little to do with the names of the various movements. The compositional style is quite conservative and pleasant with hints of varied influences from the renaissance to “new age.”

Berg’s performance is beautiful. His sound, his sense of progression, and level of artistic intensity are compelling and make repeated hearings of this recording very enjoyable. I must confess I didn’t really understand the relationship of the metaphorical titles to the actual music. I enjoyed the music regardless!

—Stephen Waechter

The Free Times reviews The Pilgrim Forest

Free Times, Columbia, SC, November 1-7, 2000
Christopher Berg, The Pilgrim Forest (Laughing Heart)

When the jaunty, briskly strummed opening chords ring out from an acoustic guitar on “Gorilla Music,” the first track on Christopher Berg’s new CD, it seems at first that the music to follow could be either an unfocused barrage of technique or a Rush-like epic. It doesn’t take long, however, for Berg to demonstrate that his formidable technique will be put to the cause of creative compositions with impressive delivery and emotional depth.

Given the fact that Columbia’s Berg is best known for his guitar and lute performances of Renaissance and classical works, it may surprise some to learn that Berg is also a skilled composer. The Pilgrim Forest is comprised entirely of music for solo guitar and was recorded without benefit of overdubs or other studio enhancements. With a brief story line in accompanying text, the CD lays out the adventures of several characters —Traveler, Pilgrim, Warrior, Emperor and Fool—providing metaphors for life’s experiences as it traverses various musical landscapes. From the “Waltz of the Hermit,” in which a hermit makes peace with his former enemy, to “The Emperor and the Fool,” where the Emperor learns “to know himself through the truths flowing from within,” The Pilgrim Forest is really about searching inward, not physical travel.

On a musical level, the CD shows that Berg is capable of moving beyond his classical foundation into his own uncharted forest of music that is free-flowing, vibrant, expansive and modern —even postmodern. Berg successfully navigates between strands of classical, folk and new age, carefully balancing dollops of dissonance or rhythmic complexity within overarching structures that are melodic and inviting. The result is music that sounds comfortingly familiar but also refreshing.

When, for example, Berg borrows from the “Doxology” (written by Thomas Ken in 1674) at the end of “The Girl Without Arms,” it emerges simply as one new theme among many others, integrating perfectly with Berg’s own music. “Lullaby Blue” sets a properly sleepy tone, with a charming melody that wafts along through development and variations. On “Song ForGiving,” Berg moves between warm, elegantly simple melodic lines and more complex contrapuntal variations. Here, his graceful phrasing, intuitive sense of dynamics and enviable technique all come together with his compositional skill.

Selections from The Pilgrim Forest have already been heard on more than 140 public radio stations on the nationally syndicated “Classical Guitar Alive” show. Locally, the CD is available at the Portfolio Art Gallery in Five Points and the Carol Saunders Gallery in the Vista. DC
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Classical Guitar Magazine (Great Britain) reviews Mastering Guitar Technique

Mastering Guitar Technique: Process and Essence
The rather weighty title here is matched by many words on the deep subject of guitar technique and, though I have obviously seen and read very many books on the subject, Mr. Berg’s analysis is among the most thorough and professional to come my way. It is not a tutor book but rather more a look into the deeper and deepening recesses of technique; almost every small detail of movement is painstakingly taken apart and described along with seating and so on through into actual exercises. In effect, there are 24 main sectors in the book dealing with all and any trouble spots a guitarist may come across during a career, professional or amateur.

My interest immediately perked up as I read page 16... the Quadridge Phenomenon. This is where the free movements (for all of us) between the m and a fingers are affected. I noted that even after years of playing m/a work, those two fingers never quite had the efficiency of i/m or any thumb interaction. This part of the book delves into this area more than any other guitar book and it answers the main questions one would expect to find on this topic. A sector follows on the art of study and practicing correctly; with the correct mental and physical approach of course and, here again, no stone is left unturned as the author essays what could be a rather plain or even boring subject area in the wrong hands. At times, quite large (and even new) words come into play as various modes of hand and finger movement are discussed in the most minute way... if you are having real problems playing clearly, efficiently and in a relaxed manner, this could be the book for you to read and open up your technical know-how.

I feel just one or two areas could have had more explanation: the Barré and also the area of Finger Exchange on the left hand. I have to point out here that even the great Aguado falls short in his excellent Method and Sor too when it comes to telling the player what to do AFTER notes have been pressed and sounded... here we have the same problem.

Without going into gigantic detail, I am very surprised that such an efficient player as Aguado, did not pass on to the pupil the exact nature of the touch on the left hand; even the popular Carcassi tutor has no real data on this. In the area of the Barre, the thumb can be devastating if wrongly used and can ruin and tire the hand; Lesson 17 in this new book does not mention this common fault at all. These are minor niggles however in what is a very fine book, written expertly and with the best intentions.

Neil Smith
Classical Guitar Magazine
October 2002
About Christopher Berg
Christopher Berg is a Carolina Distinguished Professor in the School of Music at the University of South Carolina where he directs the classical guitar program. He has performed hundreds of concerts throughout the United States.