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Electric Guitar Quartet to Perform Free Concerts as Part of U.Va. Residency

The University of Virginia will host Dither, a New York-based electric guitar quartet, for a residency on Feb. 21-22 that includes a free performance in Old Cabell Hall and a concert of music composed by graduate students in the McIntire Department of Music.

The group is an experimental quartet whose repertoire ranges from music grounded in pop and rock to highly complex 21st-century pieces, said Ted Coffey, an associate professor in the music department.

“They perform ruthless art music, but somehow it’s accessible,” Coffey said. “Dither is an awesome, cacophonous downtown electric guitar quartet.”

The group will perform a free concert at Old Cabell Hall on Feb. 21 at 8 p.m. that features new music for acoustic and electric guitar, as well as other fretted instruments, including banjo and mandolin. It will perform works by composers John Zorn, Fred Frith and others.

On Feb. 22 at 8 p.m., the group will perform works by graduate student composers from the music department during a concert at the Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville. Organizers said the featured pieces will include a work based on mash-ups and re-contextualization of classic rock transcriptions; a video-game-based interactive piece using animated scores via iPads; a radical transformation of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo, “Eruption”; a piece based on electron spin models; a meditation on traditional Korean vocal music; and a work composed on a small handmade instrument  discovered in the Grand Canyon.

Kevin Davis, a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and composer, wrote the piece inspired by Eddie Van Halen’s seminal guitar solo, “Eruption.” He said writing for an electric guitar quartet offers a chance to explore compositional territory that is much different than that offered by writing for a string quartet or other, more traditional instrumentation.

“As composers, we wanted to write for something new,” he said. “This opens up a whole different kind of instrumental writing. There are other types of repertoires and cultural references that you can engage with.” 

Davis said he was drawn to “Eruption” as the basis for this work in part because it exemplifies a quirky period in the electric guitar’s development when many players – Van Halen perhaps supreme among them – combined machismo and showmanship with virtuosity and erudition in their playing. 

“I thought that was an interesting thing to explore,” Davis said. “It was really an odd era, in that the music was essentially saying: ‘Yes, I’m a virtuoso, but I also like to party. It became the template for metal, which was the dominant guitar-playing aesthetic of the ’80s and beyond. ’”

In addition to the concerts, the residency will include a Feb. 19 workshop and colloquium by Nick Didkovsky, an experimental electric guitarist and composer who Coffey said has also made major contributions to computer music by developing coding languages and software. The workshop will be at 3:30 p.m. in Old Cabell Hall, room 107.

The Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts is supporting the residency.

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