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mjzee

Julian Bream, R.I.P.

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The Wall Street Journal has reported that Julian Bream has died.  Their notice began:

It’s a safe bet that Julian Bream, who died on Friday at 87, would be remembered if he’d never done anything but play guitar. After Andrés Segovia, he was the best-known classical guitarist of the 20th century, a player of limitless sensitivity who could hold an audience spellbound simply by plucking a few quiet notes on his unamplified instrument—but who also tossed off more technically demanding pieces with the panache of an old-time barnstorming virtuoso.

Yet Mr. Bream did much more than merely play guitar. He doubled on the lute, the guitar’s ancestor, and was responsible in large part for the postwar revival of interest in that long-forgotten instrument. He led his own ensemble, the Julian Bream Consort, one of the first period-instrument groups, and appeared frequently in recital with the tenor Peter Pears, a professional relationship that was immensely valuable to him. “I learnt a lot from Peter about phrasing like a singer, which is what we all try to do on instruments,” he told an interviewer in 2007.

Most important of all, Mr. Bream commissioned and gave the premieres of solo pieces and concertos for guitar by many of the leading composers of his time, among them Malcolm Arnold, Lennox Berkeley, Hans Werner Henze, Toru Takemitsu, Michael Tippett and William Walton. Unlike Segovia, who disliked all but the most conservative 20th-century music, Mr. Bream did more than anyone else to modernize his instrument’s dusty repertoire. Above all, he persuaded Benjamin Britten, Pears’ partner, to try his hand at writing for the guitar, and the result was the 18-minute-long “Nocturnal After John Dowland” (1963), the first large-scale masterpiece for solo guitar and a piece that Mr. Bream performed so superlatively well that his first recording of it, made in 1966, remains to this day the benchmark for all other guitarists.

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I saw him in recital around 1963 at the University of Iowa. About midway in the program tears were streaming down his cheeks during a Bach transcription.

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