I got a fever! And the only prescription is … more guitar! That’s how Mesut özgen might complete Christopher Walken’s iconic line from the Saturday Night Live sketch spoofing Blue Oyster Cult’s cowbell-heavy “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” After all, özgen is the conductor of the one-of-a-kind Santa Cruz Guitar Orchestra. While classical guitar is most often performed by a solo player or a quartet, according to özgen, the growing trend of the guitar orchestra—a 20-musician ensemble composed almost entirely of guitars—has taken up roots in Santa Cruz.
Over the last 30 years, the Turkish-born UCSC professor says he has also seen guitar orchestras sprout up in both Japan and Europe, to varying degrees of success. People often don’t know what to expect when they come to see a guitar orchestra, he says. But they just as often leave pleasantly surprised by the tones, sounds, rhythms and textures that can be conjured by a large collection of guitarists performing in unison. “It’s more varied than a string orchestra, because there are so many different options for guitars,” özgen says. “You can create so many sound effects on the guitar that you can’t get on other instruments.” Simply sliding up and down the strings, for instance, can produce squeaks and screeches like that of a seagull’s cry or a whale’s song. “The whole body of the instrument, including the strings, is very appropriate for producing percussion.” The Santa Cruz Guitar Orchestra will put those skills to the test at its season finale on May 21 at the UCSC Music Center Recital Hall, when they will perform classical, world, jazz, and contemporary compositions from some of the world’s most renowned musicians from the past and present.
INFO: 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 21. UCSC Music Center Recital Hall, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz. $23/general, $20/seniors, $16/students. For tickets, visit santacruztickets.com, or call 459-2159.