The bucolic seashore town of Ocean Grove, NJ is a place designed for quiet reflection and spiritual renewal.
An artist sketches in the lush green park off Pilgrim Pathway.
Still others read or meditate in the heart of this picturesque village which features gingerbread houses and colorful gardens, all just steps away from the fresh salt air wafting off the blue Atlantic Ocean.
As we make our way inside Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium — a 6,250-seat venue built in 1894 which is not only used for religious purposes, but is also a prime spot for music lovers to enjoy classical, pop, and religious concerts — we feel the warm sunlight streaming through the auditorium’s back windows on this summery July 26, 2018 evening.
We can also see the light naturally illuminate the venue’s large stage which, tonight, is set up with a piano bench, a single chair, a microphone, and a large spray of flowers.
Dr. Gordon Turk, current artistic director of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, introduces this evening’s musical program to an audience filled with music lovers of all ages stating, “Tonight the mood is set for the classical guitar duo of Alex and Wesley Park.”
After explaining, “The guitar has an intimate and gentle sound,” Turk invites the audience to “quiet our minds and enter into this intimate space for contemplation,” before introducing brothers Alex and Wesley, who take a bow before sitting down to tune their instruments.
Alex and Wesley Park started learning the piano at an early age but began guitar studies in their teenage years. After working under virtuoso guitarist Christopher Parkening at Pepperdine University, the brothers came together as a duo and went on to perform guitar concerts in the United States and around the world in places as far away as Heidelberg, Germany and Hermagor, Austria.
The Park Brothers open tonight’s concert with a medley of three anonymous Renaissance pieces transcribed for guitar by Patrick Russ and Christopher Parkening — all played from memory.
The first, “Drewries Accordes,” highlights the brothers’ beautiful guitar tone as they alternate echoing one another while executing quick-fingered runs.
The second, “Le Rossignol,” is a slower, lighter, and sweeter piece on which each musician must be in tune with his own instrumental part, yet must also listen and react to his partner’s expressive playing.
The brothers conclude the medley with “La Volta,” a Spanish-sounding work which features impressive fingerpicking and rich strumming, prompting large applause from this audience of classical music aficionados.
Intermezzo from “Goyescas” is up next — a piece about which Wesley says, “you can hear the Spanish influence.” On this number, Alex picks up and down the fingerboard as Wesley plays the melody around Alex’s part. Alex also lightly drums on the body of his guitar adding drama to this quiet and intimate piece which concludes with a beautiful and soft coda.
Wesley takes leave of the stage to feature Alex who announces, “This next piece — ‘Gigue’ — was written by Manuel Ponce, a Mexican composer, for Andres Segovia in the Baroque style.”
Quick and powerful yet sometimes soft, Alex’s fingers run up and down his fretboard, rapid-fire at times, tuneful at others, on this impressive solo number.
A highlight of this evening’s program is Alex’s performance of “Sunburst,” a composition he reveals was written by Andrew York, his guitar teacher at California State University at Fullerton.
Explaining that York’s compositions are “influenced by jazz, pop, and rock and roll,” Alex plays the piece which, at times, is reminiscent of guitarist Pat Metheny’s jazz composition, “San Lorenzo.”
Smiling, Alex’s hands glide up and down the fretboard as he fingerpicks an upbeat, joyful, and modern melody. Making it look effortless — the guitar an extension of his musical talent — he makes his instrument sound like a rollicking train ride before the audience responds with avid applause!
Wesley returns to the stage and tells the audience about the brothers’ guitars, revealing they are “made of cedar wood, with the back and sides made of Brazilian rosewood.” Announcing that his guitar was “built in 1966 and Alex’s was built in 1965,” elder members of the audience chuckle when Wesley acknowledges “both are really old!”
The brothers take flight when they perform “Danza de la Pastora” by the Spanish composer Ernesto Halffter. On this intriguing piece, the melody rings out as the guitars dance merrily together while the brothers play up and down their fingerboards with quick momentum.
They follow that up with a pair of Spanish pieces by Manuel de Falla. On “El Pano Moruno,” the brothers watch each other as they make their guitars beautifully complement one another. On “The Miller’s Dance,” lilting and bending strings are featured as the siblings strum together before ending with a flourish.
While the Park Brothers take a short intermission, we chat with several members of the audience about the concert thus far.
States Alexandra from Howell, “I’ve been coming to the Great Auditorium since the 1970s. The Park Brothers are phenomenal! Their fingers are flying and they don’t even have any sheet music in front of them — they are doing it all from memory. It’s unbelievable.”
Diane from Toms River agrees, commenting, “It’s amazing to attend this intimate and unusual personal performance — it’s phenomenal.”
Says Diane’s son, Justin, 12, “I came to listen to the music because I like guitars,” before adding, “This is my first classical concert, and I really like it.”
Morgan from Pennsylvania — here to celebrate her 21st birthday — tells us she’s impressed with the musicians’ work ethic when she exclaims, “They probably have a lot of callouses on their fingers!”
Morgan’s friend, Daniel from Virginia, concurs, adding, “They are probably constantly practicing — they sound amazing.”
Lastly, Morgan’s grandmother, Jessica from Oakhurst, comments, “We’re all enjoying this show,” before lamenting, “I wish I had come to more shows this season.”
Following intermission, Alex and Wesley Park return to the stage to hearty applause. They open Act II with a Christopher Parkening/Alex Park arrangement of Bach and Gounod’s “Ave Maria.”
As Alex plays the stirring melody, Wesley accompanies him with soft chords. Audience members’ heads gently nod to the music as the brothers play.
An audible murmur of approval is heard from the appreciative crowd at the end of the piece before they break into avid applause.
Says Alex, “Both the previous piece and the next piece were written originally for piano and voice with Wesley playing the piano part and me playing the voice part. In this next piece — by Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo — the two of us will switch roles throughout the piece.”
Here, they perform Rodrigo’s “De los alamos venue, madre,” which features a beautiful interplay between the brothers’ guitars as they each take turns playing the lovely melody and the piece’s chordal accompaniment, much to the audience’s delight.
After Wesley discloses, “We’ve had the honor of studying this next piece with both the composer — Andrew York — and the performer it was written for — Christopher Parkening,” he acknowledges, “It has a lot of meaning for us.”
Presenting York’s “Evening Dance,” the talented young musicians’ fingers fly as they bring this reflective piece to life before the audience’s eyes and ears, impressing the members of the audience with their advanced technique and skill.
Following appreciative applause, Alex exits the stage, leaving Wesley in the spotlight.
“Bach believed that music is for the glory of God,” explains Wesley, as he places a capo on his guitar.
Noting this next piece was “originally for strings and voice,” Wesley explains that the arranger, Rick Foster, “kept the original bass line of the piece” making it one of the more difficult compositions in the guitar literature to play.
Launching into the well-known “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” by J.S. Bach, as Wesley plays, audience members can appreciate the difficulty of translating this piece to solo guitar as they hear the famous melody and contrapuntal bass line gently echoing throughout the Great Auditorium.
Next, Wesley performs another well-known piece — the Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts” — a number on which he uses several different guitar techniques to emulate different instruments. For instance, as he plays, he uses a “tambour” technique where he rapidly strikes the guitar’s strings to create a drumlike sound; a “ponticello” technique — which involves playing closer to the guitar’s bridge — to sound like a trumpet; and “harmonics” to create a bell-like sound.
Also, at one point, he has to manually turn one of his tuning pegs to lower the pitch from a G to a low E, adding a sense of excitement to the proceedings.
Sounding like a one-man orchestra, the audience applauds for Wesley’s performance!
Alex rejoins Wesley on stage for Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum (Praise Ye the Lord).” While Wesley plays the beautiful and sweet Mozart melody, Alex plays the choral accompaniment, the music sailing straight into the audience members’ hearts.
On the next number, Wesley plays one solo piece, Terrega’s “Recuerdos de la Alhambra,” while Alex simultaneously plays another piece — a countermelody created by the well-known guitarist, John Williams.
Here, the brothers utilize the technique of “tremelo” — where a string is quickly played to give the illusion of one very long sustained note — on this Spanish-sounding amalgamation. The constant motion of the melody and chords makes audience members marvel at the skill of these two talented siblings.
The brothers take a well-deserved bow before concluding the evening’s program with Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s “La Vida Breve” — a piece the brothers consider “the most exciting duet in the guitar repertoire.” Strumming in sync, the duo performs this quick-moving piece which is filled with a wide range of dynamics — inspiring cheers and a standing ovation from the Great Auditorium crowd!
Thanking the audience for attending their “East Coast premiere,” the brothers chat from the stage with concertgoers in the auditorium for a moment, stating about their appearance here in Ocean Grove, “This is the first time we’ve seen the Atlantic Ocean — it’s very beautiful,” before eliciting laughs when commenting, “And it’s very humid here, too.”
For an encore, Alex and Wesley perform “Boliviana” by Celso Machado. On this piece, the brothers echo one another, tapping their strings and guitar bodies as they rhythmically respond to one another’s playing on this happy-go-lucky number.
After audience members express their approval for a job well done with cheers and applause, we take a moment to chat with several music lovers in the crowd about tonight’s performance.
First, we talk to George from Ocean Grove who comments on the Park’s program tonight with two simple words — “We’re smiling!”
We also chat with Max, age 8, from Point Pleasant.
Max tells us he’s played the guitar for six months and is a Beatles’ fan who recently went to England. In fact, while there, Max had his picture taken crossing Abbey Road like The Beatles did on their famous album cover.
States Max, “The Park Brothers are really good — I liked the whole thing.” Upon learning that the siblings practice four hours every day, Max exclaims, “I’ll try to practice that much, too!”
We also get to chat with the Park Brothers themselves, who inform us that they are currently in preparation for their next US concert which will take place in Northern California. They also plan to follow that up with a performance in Canada in the Fall.
When asked if they get along together offstage as well as they do onstage, the brothers reply with a smile, “Yes, we kind of have to.”
With regards to performing here in the Garden State, Alex remarks, “This town is very welcoming and this audience was great!”
Brother Wesley concurs, adding, “This audience was so responsive — it makes it fun to play for them,” before concluding, “It really takes the pressure off when you know the audience is with you!”
To learn more about the Park Brothers, please go to parkbrothersguitar.com. To learn more about upcoming programming at the Great Auditorium — including The Beach Boys on August 18 and Doo Wop Extravaganza starring Jay and the Americans, The Drifters’ Charlie Thomas, The Duprees, The Coasters, and The Shirelles’ Shirley Alston Reeves on September 1 — please click on oceangrove.org.
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