Flaming flamenco, underwater tango

A MAN SITS on a chair on a small rug in the centre of a big stage. There is a little footstool on which he rests one foot. His body embraces a guitar in the manner of Spanish practitioners for hundreds of years. This is James Grace, arguably South Africa’s most well loved and skilled guitarist, and he’s not alone on stage for long: Recuerdos (Memories) is a gorgeous collaboration between Grace and the women of Carli Spanish Dance Productions.

It is here that you experience the well-known music of Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) and Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999), but the programme is not just focused on the popular tunes. It’s replete with a whopping 14 pieces drawing from Spanish composers who have slipped into popular reception and those who have not. But that’s not all you get: interfaced with the astonishing underwater photography of Ilse Moore, the experience of this show lends itself to an aesthetic which makes you think of old traditions of painting where the drapery had a presence of its own. It’s an interesting touch to the aesthetic of the show, but it is not consistently successful. As the show begins, the videographic backdrop is glittery and abstract. It becomes distracting and you cast your eye from it. But as the work unfolds, and you get a more tactile context of these mysterious underwater shots, you’re hooked and transfixed.

The heavy complexity of the women’s skirts in conjunction with their bodies has an engaging presence of its own, and this is echoed in the dancing onstage. With their expressive wrists, their severe facial expressions, their stamping shoes and the trains of their skirts which have an unstoppable momentum of their own, these dancers are mesmerising. Indeed, the grammar and vocabulary of the choreography conjures up a storm of formal Spanish dance protocol blended with a touch of utter magic.

And then, there’s Carli Olivier. She’s the chief dancer in this six-strong troupe, and her presence is authoritative and simply magnificent. She holds the kernel of the potency of each choreographed phrase with certainty and frankness. And you struggle to pull your eyes from her.

The show is rooted, however, in words. From the get-go, you can see that Grace is not a natural speaker: he’s more comfortable with the instrument pressed close to his heart doing the talking. But the words he offers are succinct and interesting, lending both a sense of vulnerability to the show and great insights into the history of Spanish guitar music.

The show tends to be a little soporific at its tail end. And this may have to do with its gentleness and repetitive qualities as well as its length, but it’s an experience that will leave you with a spring in your step and a little enhanced courage to face the rest of the week. Recuerdos is an extremely civilised way to spend a Friday or a Saturday or a Sunday evening.

Robyn Sassen, 2018

Weekend: Recuerdos

RECUERDOS. A multi-dimensional Danza Estilizada with guitarist James Grace, Carli Spanish Dance Productions, with Ilse Moore’s underwater photography. Presented by Pieter Toerien Productions. At Theatre on the Bay


Cape Town’s once vibrant stamping ground for Spanish dance has, since La Rosa Spanish Dance Company’s demise, seen far too few renverses (turns) and zapateado. Therefore, news that respected guitarist James Grace and Sasolburg’s Carli Olivier’s Spanish Dance Productions were joining forces with Ilse Moore’s exciting underwater photography sent enthusiasts flocking to Theatre on the Bay.

Danza Estilizada

Recuerdos (memories) intended refreshing memories of past flamenco productions. Boasting superb water features, an occasional video clip showing these would link Recuerdos’s title, music, dance and water into a unified whole.

Grace’s finger style is brilliant. As they raced over guitar strings they drew as much admiration as Olivier’s Danza Estilizada (stylized Spanish dance), and Moore’s remarkable slow-motion underwater pictures. Guitar, not public speaking, is Grace’s forte. Had a director overseen proceedings, he’d have guided Grace to memorise a prepared script rather than ad lib. A director would also ensure an efficient sound system.

In his book Duenda (spirit) flamenco guitarist Jason Weber wrote “Essential to successful collaboration between dancer and guitarist lies in guitarist following dancer’s compas (time).”

A different technique for Grace, who in Tango showcased he’s mastering this practice. His response to Olivier’s “red cordoba” teasing generated a sense of the sensuality essential to Spanish dance. Led by Olivier, her well-rehearsed, elegant company comprised Janca Erasmus, Monique Els, Marilie Viljoen and Georgina Jacobs. Olivier’s artistic choreography introduced typical palmas (hand clapping), pitos (finger snapping), occasional cante (singing), zapateado (beats) varied filigrana or floreos (hand movements). Undulating arms closely resemble classical ballet port de bras. Except, the elbow controls direction and arms rarely go behind the head.

Impressive dances

When holding coloured fans, dancers wove artistic shapes through space. And the swirling skirts of a basic slim-fitting black lace dress added to Olivier’s choreography, as did beautiful picos (long fringed) shawls, coats, and flower or peinta headdresses. In Farruca, while feet, in steel-tipped shoes zapped out zapateado, hand-held full-length black, gold-trimmed, chiffon coats wafted into unusual designs. Farruca and Serenata Espanola (Joaquin Malats) were Recuerdos’s most impressive dances.

To Moore should go a top Ocean Art Underwater Video award. Particularly striking was her colourful Capricho Arabe visuals. As barefoot dancers stretched out a leg or lifted an arm, fabric swaths floated though water as mushroom-like bubbles floated to the surface. A stunning visual experience as strikingly beautiful as exotic tropical fish.

Recuerdos, a many faceted show, is worth developing and taking to audiences further afield.

Artsmart: Chilled

Chilled will be enjoyed by all who love solo guitar music, and is sure to make a lot of new converts. (Review by Keith Millar)

I have long been a fan of the music of South Africa’s classical guitar maestro, James Grace. So, when he releases a new CD it is, for me, something to get quite excited about.

Named Chilled, this CD is a departure from Grace’s previous five solo guitar albums, which concentrated mostly on classical music for the instrument. On this occasion, he has featured his own arrangements of songs by artists which include The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Don Mclean, Jesse Harris, Carol King, Billy Joel and John Denver. There is also a South American element with original compositions and arrangements by Brazilian guitar whizz Marco Pereira.

Much of the material on Chilled was performed by Grace in his shows Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero ll. A few years ago, I had the privilege of reviewing Guitar Hero at the Hilton Arts Festival. At the time, I wrote that the show offered “sublime guitar music performed with warmth, skill and passion, by a very gifted musician.”

Well, the same sentiments are certainly true about the CD, Chilled.

Grace is an award-winning classical guitarist who has performed with all the leading orchestras in the country. These classical roots run deep, and are evident in his arrangements of the music on this CD. The result is a beautifully smooth and laid-back album which lives up to its name, Chilled.

Recorded by Duncan Mackay at DM Recording Studios the album is technically excellent with a beautifully refined and nuanced sound. It also marks the tenth anniversary of Grace’s independent record label, Stringwise Records.

Best enjoyed with your feet up and a large glass of red wine to hand, Chilled is a collection of music which certainly has charms to sooth the savage breast.

Chilled will be enjoyed by all who love solo guitar music, and is sure to make a lot of new converts. – Keith Millar

Grocott’s Mail

Grace Delivers Orchestral Sound on His Guitar

James Grace, one of South Africa’s top classical guitarists, enthralled the audience at a concert hosted by the Grahamstown Music Society on Tuesday 7 October.

Grace, who heads the classical guitar programme at the University of Cape Town, showed why he was the first guitarist to receive the Tagore Gold Medal at the Royal College of Music in London.

His programme was well chosen, focusing largely on Latin American and Spanish pieces which allowed him to elicit from his instrument an abundance of tonal colours and nuances.

Beethoven once referred to the classical guitar as a “mini-orchestra” and Grace certainly let his instrument live up to this label.

Grace played a guitar he commissioned from the Australian luthier Jeff Kemp which uses a lattice-braced soundboard, a major development in guitar construction which lends a greater clarity, presence and projection in comparison to the traditional fan-braced method.

The concert commenced with a Latin America component featuring two pieces by the Brazilian guitarist-composer Sardinha, who was influential in the rise of the Bossa Nova. The two pieces, Inspiricao and Improviso, were delivered with a lyrical sensibility and intimacy which I am sure helped to diffuse the cares of the day among the audience. Grace then played three pieces by the great Paraguayan virtuoso, Barrios Mangore.

The Madrigal-Gavotta with its bright, lively staccato chordal movements picked up the pace providing a lovely contrast to the opening pieces. The Mazurka maintained the pace and included beautiful use of harmonics to the texture of the sound.

The third piece, the beautiful and profound Una Limosna por el amor de Dios with the ripple-like effect of the tremolo induced a meditative experience (An Alm for the Love of God) composed as it was late in Barrios’ life as death approached.

The programme then took a brief detour in the form of Abdullah Ibrahim’s The Wedding, a solo arrangement by Grace which I felt maintained the spirit of the piece. Grace’s aim was to pare this song down so that its melodic essence can shine out. Along with some dancing African-infused bass lines and deft chordal voicings it was a lovely tribute to Ibrahim, now in his 80th year. Grace was married recently so it is obviously one of the soundtracks to his life.

The programme then turned to Spain with a work by the Spanish pianist Joaquim Malats, Serenata Espagnola, a brisk and lively salon piece which picked up the pace once more.

This was followed by the earliest work in the programme, Sor’s Gran Solo Op. 14, a dramatic and majestic piece propelled by extensive bass and treble pedalling along with some dazzling scale runs. This rousing piece was followed by a medley based on compositions dedicated to women, three Tarrega pieces, Adelita, Maria and Rosita, Llobett’s arrangement of El Testamen D’Amelia and Barrios’ Julia Florida.

Ranging from achingly beautiful to precocious and playful at times they evoked a range of emotional reactions to the women who touched them one way or another in their lives.

The programme concluded with Albeniz’s Granada and Asturias, both perennial favourites in the guitar repertoire both of which conjure up the fire and grandeur of Spain. Tarrega’s Recuerdas d’Alhambra another stalwart of the repertoire served as a fitting encore, another flowing tremolo work inspired by the cascading fountains of the Alhambra palace, a great legacy of the Moorish past.

Grace has a relaxed and confident presence on the stage and is in complete command of his instrument coaxing from it a wide range of sounds and effects.

The beautiful St Andrew’s Chapel has excellent acoustics which enhanced the whole experience. Sitting near the back, I could hear everything clearly and felt deeply connected to the performance.

The lighting was subdued and ambient but could have been better up front, it certainly however did not detract from a fine evening.

Thanks once again to the GMS for bringing performers of this calibre to Grahamstown.

Artsmart 2014

Choice of music brings the best from the two guitarists. (Review by Keith Millar)

The Music Revival Concert Series at the Witness Hilton Arts Festival offered a varied programme of music that would have suited the tastes of most classical music enthusiasts.

Catering for the lovers of classical guitar was the concert entitled Two Guitars. This concert featured festival regular James Grace who is the head of guitar studies at the University of Cape Town’s College of Music and one of his pupils Chloe Murphy.

Grace is one of South Africa’s leading concert artists. In recent times, he has appeared with Cape Town Philharmonic, the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic, the Johannesburg Festival and the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestras. He has also recently released his fifth solo album entitled World Café.

He did not disappoint at this concert giving a virtuoso performance of great skill and warmth. There was considerable synergy between Grace’s performance and that of his young student Chloe Murphy. She is in the fourth year of her studies at the University of Cape Town She proved to be a rare talent in her own right.

The programme kicked off with music from the 17th century British composer John Dowland. This music was originally composed for two lutes but has been transcribed for guitar. The artists gave a sensitive performance of this ethereal and rather melancholy medieval music.

Next on the programme was Café Para Dos by contemporary Argentinean composer Maximo Diego Pujol and this was followed by L’Encouragement by Spaniard Fernando Sor. Both passionate pieces of music were skilfully played.

Maurice Ravel’s contribution to the programme was his beautiful Pavan pour une infant defunté (Pavane to a dead Princess). This work was originally composed for the piano but it is equally impressive played on the guitar.

Completing the programme was the virtuosic Suite Retratos by Brazilian composer Radames Gnatelli. This music once again brought out the best from the two guitarists.

The venue for this concert was the Chapel at Hilton College. While the pews are inclined to become a little uncomfortable during an hour-long concert it remains acoustically an excellent venue for serious acoustic music. This combined with guitar playing of the standard that was on display ensured that the concert was one to be remembered. – Keith Millar

Posted by ARTSMART   at 12:14 AM

24 September 2014

Artsmart 2012

I have been a big fan of Cape Town guitarist James Grace since I saw him play with the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra a few years ago. I subsequently bought his CD, Granada, and It fast became one of my favourite albums to listen to while driving long distances. The serene Spanish music soothes the soul and settles the nerves, and seems to shorten the distance.

Nothing I heard at this concert at the Witness Hilton Arts Festival detracted from my fondness and admiration for the guitar playing of James Grace. In a concert of mainly contemporary music James produced a sublime performance of mesmerising skill and beauty.

The concert was held in the Art Block at Hilton College. This venue is an old converted workshop and, although fairly rustic, worked well for an intimate show such as this as the performer sits very close to the audience.

Grace explained that the theme for his concert was love and emotions, and started off with two standards, Let There Be Love and Just The Way You Are. Norah Jones with her simple and beautiful style is one of James’s favourite artists and he played solo guitar adaptations of three of her songs, Come Away with Me, I Don’t Know Why and The Nearness Of You. This was followed by Abdulla Ibrahim’s Wedding and, much to the audience’s pleasure, a medley of Beatles songs to celebrate the 50th anniversary since they recorded their first hit Love Me Do.

The final two items on the programme were the exquisite Granada by Isaac Albeniz and Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Francisco Tarrega. The latter not been played so before the audience received a brief lesson in how to play the tremolo effect required in the music. Yeah. Sure. Now we all know how to do it!

All in all, this was a breathtaking and captivating concert performed by South Africa’s foremost classical guitarist.

Review of the concert at the 2012 Hilton Art Festival
– by Keith Millaruo

The Witness

“…One of the highlights of the concert series must surely have been Cape Town guitarist James Grace with his matinée-idol good looks and beautiful renditions of Spanish guitar music.

His technical brilliance, attention to detail and complete absorption in the music he was playing, made his performance an exciting and enjoyable experience.”

Mary – Anne Hartley

Die Volksblad

‘n Positiewe wind waai oor die Vrystaatse Simfonieorkes

“…Al die seksies is na ’n hoër vlak van spel verhef as dit waaraan gehore die afgelope jare uitgelewer was.

Die Kaapstadse kitaarsolis James Grace het dit dus goed getref, want uit die aard van dié instrument is die klankbalans ’n kritiese faktor, al het Grace sy klank effens versterk. Pianissimo-spel was in die verlede dikwels ’n probleem.

Christopher Dowdeswell se orkestrale leiding en klankbeheer was Donderdag in die kol en die delikate nuanses van Grace se vertolking van die Concierto de Aranjuez van Rodrigo dus duidelik hoorbaar.

Sy tegniek bied ’n betroubare onderbou vir sy fyn aanvoeling vir die kleurryke skildering van die koninklike lewe aan die Aranjuez-paleis.

Lang, vloeiende frases het die bekende Adagio in ’n soort siësta-rustigheid geklee, terwyl hy in die slot-beweging daarin geslaag het om delikaatheid met ’n onderliggende vurigheid te kombineer.

Grace het ’n eie solistiese stempel op die werk afgedruk, een met groter intimiteit van ’n werk wat maklik net as ’n vertoonstuk benader kan word.”

Elretha Britz, 2009

The Citizen

Grace under no pressure

RECITAL:  James Grace – James Grace, who is head of guitar studies at the College of Music at the University of Cape Town, offered varied musical fare at his Northwards recital.

PROGRAMME:  Music by Spanish and Latin-American composers

VENUE:  Northwards, Parktown

Some of the music was well-known, but most of the programme featured pieces known mainly to guitar enthusiasts.

The venue itself proved to be ideal for the intimacy of the guitar, and there was a large attentive audience present.

Grace’s technique is among the most silent I have heard – no squeaks and tweaks here.

Expression was subtly applied, and rubato, where present, was discreet.

Works by Garoto (a Brazilian) and Barrios (a Paraguayan) typified the Romantic style of composing for a guitar.

Most appealing of several items was the Mazurka Appassionata by Barrios, much in the mood of Chopin’s melancholy piano mazurkas in minor keys.

Five preludes by Villa-Lobos, Brazil’s most prolific composer, had fanciful dedications not always borne out by the music itself (Grace introduced many of the pieces on his programme).

Only the First Prelude proved to be really familiar.

The first half of the recital ended with another Villa-Lobos work, the famous Choro No.1 (which was played in Joburg years ago by Grace’s teacher, Carlos Bonell).

The second half of the recital featured Spanish works, pieces by Tarrega and Albeniz.

Tarrega’s Grand Waltz, amazingly, contains the familiar Nokia cellphone ring tones at an internal cadence!

A more important composition of his was the Recuerdos de la Alhambra, essentially a study in the technique of repeated tones.
The encore was the Cavatina from The Deerhunter

Michael Traub, 2009


This is the third CD that James Grace has released under his own label, Stringwise Records. Each of his releases focuses on a different aspect of the guitar repertoire, giving them an added advantage for lovers of guitar music. The first, Granada, concentrates on the music of Spain. The second, Portrait, is a somewhat more ‘serious’ recital programme, while his latest, Café Latino, is a delightful, relaxed and exotic journey through the music of Latin American composers from Cuba, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I settled down to listen to Café Latino, but imagine my surprise when I discovered some enchanting and irresistible music, which creates an exotic atmosphere, yet which seems rooted in the comfortable harmonic world of the romantic period. In fact, I’ve made some delightful discoveries listening to this new CD.

As with his previous two CDs, James Grace has achieved not only a sophisticated sound, courtesy of his recording engineer Duncan Mackay, but the entire package is elegant, with superb photography, design and sleeve notes. All credit to James for his meticulous personal control of all these aspects of Stringwise Records.

Music lovers are well aware of the musical and technical attributes with which James is blessed and these are very apparent in his playing on this album, which is sensitive, colourful, and elegantly phrased. It as a joy to listen to and I gather plans are already afoot for a fourth CD.
James Grace – Portrait

‘… This CD is one that demands the attention of the listener and, in the process, one is drawn into music making of the highest caliber.

‘The classical guitar is an instrument with an intensely intimate character, and if you have ever been to a recital given by Grace you will have noticed that he directs all his attention towards his instrument. From the moment he walks on stage, holding the guitar in a prominent position, to when he sits down to play, head bent down towards the guitar, he draws us into a world of sound, colour and concentration which, after all, a solo recital should be all about.

Those characteristics are apparent in the sound world created on his new CD. One senses that one is part of an intimate musical experience and that one must listen, rather than hear. Grace has opted for a closely recorded sound, as though he is in the room with you. On any other instrument, this could be a disaster. On Portrait, the effect is to concentrate the mind on the music.

The programme is pleasantly contrasted – from the exotic, colourful sound world of Pujol to the familiar territory of the Five Preludes by Villa – Lobos. Giuliani’s important Eroica Sonata receives a performance of character and technical flair, while James’s own arrangement of a Bach fugue astonishes with its contrapuntal richness.

The presentation of the CD is as elegant as the music making. Beautiful artwork distinguishes the cover and booklet in an uncluttered style. Praise must go to Duncan Mackay, the recording engineer for having produced such a warm and detailed music picture.

All in all, this is thoroughly enjoyable new CD from one of the country’s favourite artists.’


Triple Kudos for this Duo – Canciones Españolas with Zanne Stapelberg

“… admirably supported by guitarist James Grace, the complete Latin experience unfolds in a spectacle of fire, passion, pathos and beguiling sensitivity.

In a magnificently executed opening, Grace’s truly evocative guitar playing conjures up images, sounds and smells of the Latin Spanish world. This is musicianship of another order, where the listener is transported to a fantasy world of wonderment and beauty.

Stapelberg and Grace’s ensemble is the creative pivot around which this recital revolves; their subtle communication, artistic awareness and perfect sense of dramatic timing allow song after song to become a living entity.

Canciones en Española has been without a shadow of a doubt the highlight of my Festival 2009. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!”

(Grahamstown National Arts Festival)

Classic Feel Magazine

One of the 20th Century’s most influential classical guitarists, Andrés Segovia, once said that the mark of a true performer is ‘a sacred fire… that love without which, a performer may be perfect but nothing else.’ South Africa’s own James Grace, as he clearly demonstrates through his concert performances as well as his four acclaimed CD releases, has that fire in abundance.

An Englishman by birth, he moved to Cape Town with his family when he was ten years old. He inherited a love for music in general and for the guitar in particular from his father. ‘My Dad played the guitar on an amateur level, so there was always a guitar lying around the house. I picked it up and just took to it,’ Grace recalls.

He began taking lessons with the late Dietrich Wagner, who taught guitar at Stellenbosch University. At the age of 15, he returned to England to complete his schooling. There he was taken under the wing of Carlos Bonell, first as a private pupil and later as a student at the Royal College of Music (RCM), where he enrolled as a Foundation Scholar after finishing high school. Bonell was a pupil of one of the most celebrated classical guitarists of recent times, John Williams, who himself studied under Segovia. Thus, Grace is carrying on a distinguished legacy of classical guitarists.

Upon graduating, Grace became the first guitarist in the history of the RCM to receive the Tagore Gold Medal, the College’s highest accolade. After a two-year teaching stint in Doha, Qatar, Grace returned home to Cape Town in 2003. Since his return, he has established himself as the country’s preeminent classical guitarist. His solo performances, his collaborations with other popular classical musicians – such as pianist Christopher Duigan and soprano Zanne Stapelberg – and his concerto recitals alongside the country’s top orchestras, have made him one of South Africa’s favourite concert performers.

His 2005 recording debut, Granada: Music of Spain, is a showcase of some of the best-known pieces in the Spanish repertoire: solo pieces by Granados, Sor, Albéniz and company. The guitar is so closely associated with Spain that many people overlook the works written for the instrument by composers from other countries, such as Italians Giuliani and Paganini and the 20th Century English composers Britten, Walton, Arnold and Tippett. While Grace occasionally performs these works, along with the transcriptions of various Baroque compositions that have long been popular features of guitar concert programmes, it is what he refers to as his ‘Spanish passion’ that forms the core of his work.

Portrait, his follow-up album, featured a more varied programme of concert works, including an  ntermezzo written by his old mentor Dietrich Wagner. His third album, Café Latino is a rich and fascinating musical journey showcasing the unique developments that guitar music underwent in its migration from the Iberian peninsula to Latin America. For the guitarist, this SAMA Award nominated album provided an opportunity to bring the lesser-known South American works to his audience and to explore further the melodic, rhythmic and even percussive potential of the guitar. On his latest album, Sevilla, which was released earlier this year, he continues his exploration of Spanish music.

Looking ahead, he already has ideas for the third installment in the Music of Spain series. He also has ambitions to make a recording of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, which he has performed with every orchestra in the country, but has yet to commit to disc.

Listening to Grace’s recordings, one is struck by his remarkable mastery of both form and feel. His well-developed technique combines with an instinctive feel for the emotional requirements of each piece and expressive use of phrasing and rubato to create interpretations that are fresh and new, while at the same time remaining true to the intentions of the composers as written on the stave.

In 2007, Grace set up his own record label, Stringwise Records, which is now the exclusive producer of all of his recorded work. By setting up the label, he gave himself a gift that many artists long for but don’t often get: complete artistic control. He is personally involved in all aspects of production from repertoire selection to cover design to distribution, even going so far as to pack 1000-unit batches of CDs himself. For him, making music is his passion and every little part of the process is an expression of that  passion. The end products of Grace’s meticulous approach to making his records are packages that are polished and attractive in both content and presentation.

Apart from performing, recording and running a record label, Grace also spends part of his week teaching at the University of Cape Town, where he is Head of Classical Guitar. ‘I’ve always enjoyed teaching. For me, watching students develop musically and being able to help them nurture their sound is one of the most rewarding experiences.’

Grace is currently in the process of setting up the Stringwise Young Artists Trust, which will help young musicians from around the country to produce their own records and provide them with bursaries for overseas study. Although he would be extremely happy if some of his own students became beneficiaries, the Trust is open to all music students, not just guitarists. And the final decisions are not up to Grace himself, but will be made by a board of trustees.

After only a few years as a professional in the South African music industry, Grace’s contribution has already been considerable.  As a first class performer, an entrepreneur and mentor to aspiring artists, he is a prime example of what one can achieve with a singleminded pursuit of one’s passion. Let us hope that this ‘sacred fire’ continues to blaze for a long time to come. – James Grace – “A Sacred Fire”

Classic Feel Magazine, 2009

Artsmart 2009

‘…After the interval, the Cape Town guitarist James Grace joined the orchestra in Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and showed that he is a top-class player with a total command of his instrument. The slow movement has made the name and fortune of this concerto, and the haunting main theme was played most expressively.’

Michael Green, 2009

The Herald Online

Superb Grace Concert in PE

ATTENDING a classical guitar performance on a Sunday afternoon brought about a welcome change to the usual Port Elizabeth concert calendar, and with it, a fresh crowd of faces.

It was indeed encouraging that the auditorium was uncharacteristically full, which only bears testament to the fact that the city has a need for more concerts of this genre.

Opening his performance with Garoto‘s Improviso and Inspiração,Grace approached these Brazilian works with an ease of phrase, and immense musicality.

Following this with three works by Barrios, he aptly displayed his versatility through the combination of both lyrical and bravado sections, including complex “appoggiaturas”.

Dazzling fingerwork could be heard in Sor’s Variations on a Theme by Mozart.

In complete contrast, Grace painted a beautiful Spanish vista in Two Pieces from Suite Espanola, by piano composer Isaac Albeniz.

The audience was transported to Turkey, via the guitarist‘s vivid interpretation of Carlo Domeniconi‘s Koyunbaba.

Based on “open tuning”, this piece was inspired by Turkish instruments, and it’s growing excitement through four movements was conveyed with great enthusiasm by this talented performer.

Grace is not only an acclaimed performer, but also a highly sought–after teacher.

It was thus lovely to hear one of his students, Marc Rontsch, playing alongside his tutor in Cardoso‘s Milonga. 

A highlight of the afternoon was without a doubt Carlos-Jobim‘s Garota de Ipanema, portrayed by Grace with great improvisatory enthusiasm.

One can only hope that Port Elizabeth will continue to host concerts of such diverse nature, and that this celebrated artist will again grace our stages in future.

The Herald Online, 2008

Classical Guitar Magazine

‘Billed as one of South Africa’s leading concert guitarists, James Grace studied at the Royal College of Music with Carlos Bonell where he was the first guitarist to receive the Tagore Gold Medal and has also been awarded first prizes in two South African Competitions.

On the strength of this, his second recording, he is a highly gifted performer with a strong technique, an excellent tone and a good sense of phrasing. All this, and the fact that he strongly resembles George Clooney, puts him in the running for a splendid future career.

I have had great enjoyment from listening to this splendid recording and am delighted to have the opportunity to hear someone as good as this perform these works, someone whom I probably would not have heard of otherwise.

As an added bonus, Mr Grace concludes with an exquisite little gem of a piece composed by one of his teachers in South Africa, Dietrich Wagner, who died in 2007, the manuscript of which was presented to him by the composer’s wife, Nana. The version heard on this CD is a first recording.

Recommended.’ – James Grace – Portrait

Steve Marsh, Classical Guitar Magazine, 2008

Classic Feel Magazine

South Africa’s leading classical guitarist continues his Music of Spain series with this collection of Iberian classics. Grace demonstrates his impeccable technique and mastery of Spanish musical styles with works by Albéniz, Sor, Rodrigo, Malats, de Falla, Granados and Tárrega.  Grace’s recordings are an essential addition to the collection of any fans of classical or flamenco music as well as guitar aficionados.

Sevilla – Music of Spain II
Stringwise Records CDSTR 093

Beeld 2008

JPO spoggerig met Gueller en Grace

Dit is net menslik dat die hoë standaard wat die Johannesburg Philharmonic in die afgelope twee, drie jaar gevestig het nie altyd gehandhaaf kan word nie: daar is té veel elemente (soos die dirigent, die uiteenlopende orkeslede en die bepaalde repertorium) om te alle tye dié gehalte te waarborg.

Die derde JPO-seisoen vanjaar het tot dusver goeie resultate gelewer, maar niks uitsonderliks nie. Tot gisteraand, met die Duitse dirigent Bernhard Gueller op die podium en die Kaapstadse kitaarspeler James Grace as solis.

Voorste kitaarsoliste is oor dekades in die Goudstad gehoor in Rodrigo se Concierto de Aranjuez, met weergawes van Narciso Yepes, Alirio Diaz, Angel Romero en meer onlangs Craig Ogden. Grace beskik oor ’n veilige tegniek, maar wat sy weergawe bó die gewone verhef, is ’n fynsinnge aanvoeling vir die wese van die musiek – die “con spirito” van die eerste deel netjies verpak in ’n positiewe klankbeskrywing van koninklike ambience; die lomerige skildering van die annekserende Adagio het gewen aan lenige frasering; en die slot-Allegro is delikaat, maar met ’n byna vurige dansmantigheid aangehits. Die ingetoë, hoogs musikale solistiese benadering het die concerto bo ’n vertoonstuk laat uittroon.

Rodrigo se orkestrale meesterstuk steun, in die aard van kitaarconcerto’s, swaar op balans met die solis. Hier was Gueller se leiding van die orkes onberispelik. Die verbintenis tussen houtblasers en kitaar kan soms probleme skep, maar die frekwensie-beheer in dié orkesseksie was in die kol. Dié ontvanklike en toegewende verhouding tussen die twee dinamiese kragte – solis en dirigent-orkes – het ’n besonderse resultaat bepaal: een van die seldsame lewende uitvoerings uit eie bodem wat tuishoort in bogenoemde solistiese geselskap.

…’n Aand in die Linder om te onthou.

Thys Odendaal, Beeld, 2008


Villa-Lobos Guitar Concerto

Villa-Lobos’s Guitar concerto maybe classified as modern (written in 1951) but it has a strong impressionistic flavour, with echoes of Spain constantly recurring.

James Grace played with flair, and handles his guitar comfortably. I never liked amplification, but I guess without it, the orchestra would drown the guitar. (and in any event, Villa-Lobos prescribed it).

The second movement was more lyrical and Grace’s fingerwork was accurate and well controlled. In the final movement Villa-Lobos composed in a manner to show off the soloist’s, skill and Grace did not disappoint. He played with great sensitivity in an extended solo part. Hughes’s conducting ensured a happy balance between soloist and orchestra.

KWANA Newspaper, 2007
Eclectic, Exciting Evening

James Grace made a welcome return to Durban, and performed Rodrigo’s hauntingly beautiful Concierto de Aranjuez. This showcased Grace’s remarkable talent on classical guitar, in a combination of melodies and rhythms which vividly evoke Spain. Grace’s performance was mesmerising. He is truly a master exponent of the classical guitar. What a memorable evening.

KWANA Newspaper, 2009

Classic Feel Magazine

“…He has just released his second CD which he has called Portraitand it is a varied recital of important guitar composers and some transcriptions all played with the kind of intensity and elegance for which James Grace has become known.

…His first CD Granada featured purely Spanish music, but Portraitbroadens the repertoire to include the weighty ‘Eroica Sonata’ by Giuliani and James’s own transcription of a Bach Fugue. Music by Villa – Lobos, Pujol and the guitar pedagogue Dietrich Wagner also feature on the CD. In fact, there is a world premier here of a piece called ‘Intermezzo’ by Dietrich Wagner, the score of which was recently presented to James Grace by his widow.

…His quiet gentle demeanour ensures that a recital by him is an intense and personal experience. The guitar is the star, as is the music, and with head bent downward, he draws us into a concentrated sound-world.” – Portrait by James Grace

Classic Feel Magazine, 2007

Artsmart 2007

The soloist of the evening was the guitarist James Grace, who teaches this instrument at the University of Cape Town. He played the Guitar Concerto, written in 1951, by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. It is an interesting 20-minute work, in the modern idiom but not aggressively so, with roots in the indigenous music of Brazil.

The guitar is a small-toned, intimate instrument and Villa-Lobos sanctioned the use of a microphone in performing this work. Without the loudspeakers on either side of the platform the sound of the guitar would have been lost in the City Hall, even though the orchestra’s role is small and discreet.

James Grace, a tall young man with a mildly bohemian air, dark open-neck shirt, short haircut, played with great intensity and accuracy and extracted full value from this exotic score. The audience, who appeared to include a number of guitar-lovers, gave him an enthusiastic reception.

Artsmart, 2007

Die Burger

KLASSIEKE MUSIEK: James Grace and Friends, met James Grace (kitaar), die Universiteit van Kaapstad-kitaarensemble, Reza Khota (kitaar), Tzu-Fan Tang (viool) en Christopher Duigan (klavier). In die Baxter-konsertsaal.

James Grace is ? goëlaar met sy kitaar. Dis asof sy vingers en die musiek wat dit optower jou in vervoering opsweep. Daarby spits hy hom nie net toe op klassieke musiek nie, maar is hy bekend vir ? wye spektrum musiek, veral smeulende Spaanse liedjies.

Grace en vriende het Dinsdagaand ? konsert van musiek vir klassieke kitaar gebied.

…Grace het opgevolg met twee werke – Córdoba en Granada – van Albeniz vir kitaar, waarin dié komponis sy Spaanse herkoms vier met musiek met Flamenco-ritmes.

Die kitaarspeler het sy gehoor geboei, totdat ? Flamenco-dansers tydans Granada haar opwagting gemaak het – so asof Grace en sy talent ? mens nie genoeg in vervoering laat nie. Hoewel dit ? (paslike) andersheid was, het die harde voetkloppe by tye gepla.

Saam met die violis Tzu-Fan Tang het Grace ? sonate vir kitaar en viool van die vioolvirtuoos en komponis Niccoló Paganini gespeel.

Vir ? verandering laat Paganini nie die viool die botoon voer nie. In die liriese tweede deel (Romanza) het Grace meegevoer. Met die vele vinnige toonlere en oktaafspronge, daag hierdie werk behoorlik die kitaarspeler tegnies uit. Grace het dit soos kinderspeletjies laat lyk.

Hy en die kitaarspeler Reza Khota het ook ? aangename werk, L’Encouragement Op.36 van die komponis en kitaarspeler Fernando Sor (1778 – 1839), goed gespeel.

Werke vir klavier en kitaar is skaars, omdat, soos Grace sê, die kitaar nie die omvang en dinamiek van die klavier het nie. Nogtans is hy en die Natalse konsertpianis Christopher Duigan besig om ? repertorium van verwerkings vir dié twee instrumente saam te stel en uit te voer.

Ná die pouse het hulle dan nege stukke van Piazzolla tot Sting gespeel. Ek het veral van Piazzolla se opwindende “Libertango” gehou, en Grace het Sting se liedjie “Fields of Gold” nuwe karakter gegee.

Die Burger, 2008

Grace skilder intieme portret met musiek

Die plaaslike kitaarspeler James Grace se tweede album het pas by Stringwise Records verskyn. Dit heet Portrait, en ? mens neem aan die werke op die CD is sorgvuldig gekies om sy aansien as kunstenaar te herbevestig en uit te brei.

Dis inderdaad moeilik vir enige klassieke musikus om ? repertoire vir konserte of opnames te kies. Letterlik honderde ander beroemde musici speel dieselfde werke en hoe druk ? mens jou eie, unieke stempel op ?  werk af terwyl dit steeds in die universeel aanvaarde styl van die bepaalde komponis voorgedra moet word?

Elke kitaarspeler droom daarvan om byvoorbeeld Villa – Lobos se pragtige preludes te speel, maar soveel beroemde virtuose het dit reeds opgeneem. En elke nuwe opname word noodwendig gemeet aan bekende vorige opnames.

Grace open sy album met die Tres Piezas Españolas van een van die twintigste eeu se belangrikste kitaarpedagoge, die Spanjaard Emilio Pujol. Hy het waarskynlik die drie werke as openingstukke gekies omdat dit binne ? tradisionele raamwerk die karakter van die kitaar as kombinasie van ritmiese en melodiese instrument so goed ontgin.

Mauro Giuliani se Gran Sonata Eroica verteenwoordig die klassieke repertorium toe die klassieke kitaar ? meer gereelde toevoeging tot die familie van kamermusiekinstrumente was. Die Spaanse en Suid-Amerikaanse werke wat deesdae die grootste deel van die kitaar repertorium uitmaak, het toe nog nie bestaan nie. Die kitaar was ? instrument soos die klavesimbel, viool of fluit.

Dié sonate toon Grace as uitmuntende vakman wat al die nuanses van die sogenaamde Weense klassieke styl kundig bemeester.

Villa – Lobos se Vyf Preludes is unieke klankskilderings van een van die kitaar se voorste meesters. Van die melancholiese versugting van die eerste prelude – ? singende melodielyn afgeëts teen akkoordbegeleiding – tot die dans-elemente van die derde prelude (Melodia Capoeira) kry die uitvoerder kans om die uiteenlopende stemmings van die preludes ten volle te ontplooi.

Dis ? fyn kuns om te weet hoeveel ritartando goeie smaak is en wanneer dit oordryf word. Grace se fyn aanvoeling is baie oortuigend. Hy skep net die regte stemming vir elke werk en maak van elke prelude ’n afgeronde klankskildery. Die subtiliteit van sy kitaarklank dra by tot ? aangename luisterervaring.

Soos sy voorige CD is hierdie album ook in ? plaaslike ateljee opgeneem. Die klank is natuurlik en ? mens kry nooit die gevoel dat tegniese of elektroniese foefies die musiek van sy natuurlikheid ontneem nie.

Grace speel sy eie kitaartranskripsie van Bach se Fuga in G mineur uit die Vioolsonate no. 1 BWV 1001. Hy het dit een toon hoër getransponeer omdat A mineur tegnies ? meer speelbare toonaard vir die kitaar is. Dit beteken dat die uitvoerder meer aandag kan gee aan die komplekse eise wat die Barokkontrapunt stel en daardeur verseker dat die meedoënlose ritmiese voortstuwing so tipies aan musiek uit hierdie periode sy volle aandag kry.

Hy sluit sy ‘portret’ af met ? huldeblyk aan die Stellenbosse kitaaronderwyser Dietrich Wagner, wat verlede jaar skielik oorlede is. Wagner was Grace se eesrste kitaaronderwyser toe hy in die ouderdom van tien in Suid-Afrika aangekom het. In die bygaande boekie dra hy die werk op aan Wagner en ? ander Kaapse onderwyser wat ? groot invloed op plaaslike kitaaronderrig gehad het, Neefa van der Schyff, ook onlangs oorlede.

Wagner se Intermezzo is intiem en tydloos en die volmaakte sluit-stuk vir Grace se intieme portret van sy kuns.

Louis Heyneman, Die Burger, 2007

James Grace – Granada

‘…Sy album getiteld Granada bestaan uit ’n versameling van bekende werke van onder andere Albeniz, Sor, Granados, Tarrega
en Torroba.

Dit is duidelik dat Grace die werke op die album gekies het om sy musikaliteit en fyn aanvoeling vir die kitaar te vertoon.

Die kitaar is ’n besonder intieme instrument en die klank het min drakrag. Maar dit is juis die fyner nuanses van die klank (met die byklanke van die vingers wat snare pluk en daaroor skuif) wat die instrument so uniek maak. Elke werkie op die album is kleinkuns op
sy beste en sluit, soos te wagte, Tarrega se bekende
“Herinneringe aan die Alhambra” in.

Grace se opwinde weergawe van Albeniz se bekende “Asturias”
laat mens weer besef wat ’n vindingryke komponis Albeniz was en hoe hy die volmaakte klankskildering met die kitaar kon skep, terwyl Fernando Sor se Variasies op ’n Mozart-tema beklemtoon dat die klassieke kitaar al die fyner emosies en nuanses van ’n gesofistikeerde instrument soos die klavier of viool na vore kan

Die opnamer is besonder lewensgetrou en dit is goed om te weet
dat ’n plaaslike opname-ateljee kan meeding met die bestes van oorsee. Ons kan inderdaad kers vashou by die beste van die

Louis Heyneman, Die Burger, 2006