A two-time prize winner in the world's most prestigious guitar competition(GFA), Austin Moorhead was recently awarded a DAAD Scholarship by the German government to study with Tilman Hoppstock. He received his Master's of Music in 2009 from Yale university while studying with Benjamin Verdery, and his Bachelor's from Arizona State University while studying with Frank Koonce. In addition to his GFA awards, he has received first prize in other well-known national and international competitions, including the 2008 National Guitar Workshop Competition, the 2007 ECU Guitar Competition, and the 2007 American String Teachers Association Competition. He has performed concerts throughout the United States and Europe.
My debut CD is a collection of mostly new guitar works beginning with Sergio Assad's fiery and virtuosic Fantasia Carioca, composed in 1994 as a 'celebration of the city of Rio de Janeiro.' The contemplative and nostalgic Jeff Buckley Requiem (2007), by French guitarist-composer Denis Mortagne, was written in memory of the New York underground musical icon who died tragically in 1997. In sharp contrast, Spatula (2000) is a lighthearted pastiche with seemingly disparate elements of Spanish guitar music, bluegrass, and a Cuban habanera, 'scrambled' together by New York composer David Mallamud. Adagio, K. 540, a work originally for piano (and the only non-contemporary piece on this recording), was beautifully transcribed for guitar by Benjamin Verdery. Written in Italy in 1984, the first of Nuccio D'Angelo's Due Canzoni Lidie explores unusual sonorities with the Lydian mode and also uses space as a compositional element. The concluding work, Robert Beaser's Shenandoah (1995), is based on the traditional American folksong by the same name. Fragments of the original melody are heard throughout the piece within rich harmonies and a variety of guitar effects, yet full quotations of the melody occur only three times.
With appreciation to my family for their love and support, to Frank Koonce and Ben Verdery for their guidance, to Mallory and Steffanie Cruse for photography, and to d-Lock and all the Yale guitar guys (and girl!) for their friendship. I am also grateful to Leanne and Frank Koonce for help with the production and design of this CD. Most of all I thank God.
Label: Soundset Recordings Item Number: SR1029 Format: CD Year Recorded: 2009
".. Here in the 21st century, it's a pretty safe bet that anything released on the niche-market Soundset label, presided over by Frank Koonce and Todd Hallawell, is going to be quality merchandise.
So it is with this 2009 offering by Yale graduate Austin Moorhead, who fields Benjamin Verdery's take on K.540 alongside a largely unfamiliar but listener-friendly agenda of contemporary middleweights. Clocking in at a spacious 10'08'', Sergio Assad's Fantasia Carioca is a free and improvisatory work, in which some wonderfully soft-focus explorations drift in and out of hectic, dance-like episodes. Admirers of the same composer's superb Aquarelle are unlikely to be disappointed.
Less high-powered but equally memorable is what is billed as the premiere recording of the three movement Jeff Buckley Requiem by French guitarist/composer Denis Mortagne. Particularly engaging is the central Fuga Temporum, a sequence of shimmering arpeggios in which the fuga part of the title is clearly being applied in its literal sense.
And here we come to one of those extraordinary coincidences that occasionally arise in the course of routine research. Jeff Buckley, who achieved posthumous world fame with his cover of the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah, was a respected musician who, like his father Tim Buckley before him, met a tragic demise at an early stage in his professional career. As a child, it seems Jeff Buckley was known by his own middle name and his stepfather's surname. He therefore spent the greater part of his primary school years as Scotty Moorhead. So could there be an undisclosed link between Jeff Buckley and the present performer? An exchange of emails with Frank Koonce at Soundset strongly suggested we were dealing with nothing more than the chance duplication of two otherwise unconnected families with Celtic roots, but what a remarkable story it would have made.
Elsewhere, K.540 provides further evidence of how marvelous a wisely chosen Mozart arrangement can sound on guitar, while Robert Beaser's extended setting of Shenandoah emerges as one of the less unconvincing guitar elaborations of this nondescript tune. I can't say I was not hugely impressed by David Mallamud's Spatula, in which a jazzed-up verson of the intro to Capricho Arabe drifts seamlessly into a frantic bluegrass pastiche and then what's described in the notes as a 'Cuban habanera.' Clever stuff on the surface, although the result is far too neurotic to make any lasting impression. But the playing is terrific throughout, as is the sound capture.
An eclectic and adventurous release that may not please all the people all of the time, but it's a powerful performance with more than enough high-octane material to make it well-worth owning.
-Paule Fowles, Classical Guitar Magazine
"Austin Moorhead gives an utterly compelling account, alternately introspective and fiery, of Sergio Assad's Fantasia Carioca."