When two guitar trios take the stage at Washington Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, October 25 at 7:30 p.m., they’ll begin the evening as separate entities and end it as one seamlessly blended unit. The California Guitar Trio and Montreal Guitar Trio have been performing together for 10 years, uniting their distinct styles in what California Guitar Trio performer Paul Richards calls “a guitar orchestra.”
“I’ve seen these trios play together and separately numerous times,” says the Washington Center’s Executive Director Jill Barnes. “They deliver the finest experience in musicianship as they perform a variety of music styles.”
The groups differ in both style and instruments; California Guitar Trio (Richards, Hideyo Moriya and Bert Lams) play an eclectic mix of rock, world music, jazz and more on steel string guitars. Montreal Guitar Trio (Sebastien Dufour, Glenn Levesque and Marc Morin) are classical guitarists who explore a variety of genres. Over time, they’ve met in the middle, says Dufour. “In our case, we went from classical music through world music and onto rock and in their case, it seems like just the opposite,” he adds.
The differences between the two become apparent even in the pre-concert warm-up, according to Richards. “During the sound checks, we’re usually sitting quietly while the Montreal Trio can be quite loud and are often making jokes,” says Richards. “We’ve learned from them that we can take things seriously but still have a lot of fun with what we’re doing.”
When the groups met at a music conference in Eugene, Oregon 10 years ago, they developed a mutual appreciation. Initially, the idea was to do a few concerts together. Then came their first rehearsal at a rented studio in Montreal. “The moment we sat down and started playing together, it was as if we’d been doing it for years,” says Richards. “All of our individual training led us up to that point where we could fit together seamlessly.”
In concert, each group performs separately, in the beginning, to allow the audience to get a sense of their different styles. “People have the chance to experience both groups,” says Dufour. “It’s fun for audiences to see where we started and where we’ve come to.”
For the second half of the concert the groups join forces, creating a new sound that is more than the sum total of its parts. “Their performances are completely impeccable, and it isn’t just about their technical skills, they are totally in sync with each other and with the performance space,” says Barnes. “They create the perfect environment for patrons to hear and feel their artistry and love of guitar.”
The groups complement each other, both musically and energetically, according to Dufour. “California Guitar Trio is more meditative and contemplative,” he says. “They’re more relaxed and we tend to be louder in the moment. In terms of energy on stage, it’s great because they brought out more of a calm perspective and we brought them a more energetic presence. It’s really a good balance between the two kinds of energy. It feels really uniform and you can hear that in the music.”
International fans of both groups have responded well to the collaboration. “From what I’ve heard, it’s fun and exciting for our established fans to hear us play in a different context,” says Richards. “We play music at these concerts that we might not normally play.”
That holds true for recordings as well. The combined group’s most recent album In a Landscape includes genre-defying compositions like California Guitar Trio’s “Glass Tango,” influenced by the music of Phillip Glass and Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, as well as Montreal Guitar Trio’s “New Horizons and Magneto,” which Dufour describes as “prog music.”
“When you hear the new compositions and arrangements, you can hear the crossover influences from both groups,” he says. “Probably they wouldn’t have done tango music if they hadn’t met us, and we didn’t listen to a lot of prog music in the past but playing with them brought that into our writing style.”
The album will be included in the first round voting for Grammy nominations, a fitting achievement to mark 10 years of collaboration. “We’re really proud of the latest album,” says Dufour. “It would have been totally impossible to have recorded it in the beginning because we were still figuring out what we could do together.”
Both groups are looking forward to the tour. Richards notes that performing arts centers are one of their favorite venues because the audiences know they’re going to get something different and experience a show that they haven’t seen before.
Then there is the fundamental joy of playing together again. “We tour separately for the whole summer,” says Dufour. “The last time we saw the guys was in March. We’re really looking forward to getting back together and finding that energy I was talking about.”
Get tickets for the Montreal Guitar Trio and California Guitar Trio by visiting the Washington Center for the Performing Arts website.