With their strong folk-rock influence, Andrew York’s classical guitar compositions and performances have attracted a number of listeners with their accessibility. Although this quality—along with York’s inclusion on the 1988 Windham Hill Guitar Sampler —led some to label him a New Age guitarist, he has since made a name for himself in the United States’ classical guitar world. His compositions have been recorded by several well-known guitarists, including John Williams and Christopher Parkening. The respected Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, which York joined in the early 1990s, has also recorded some of York’s work.
York’s musical training began in his childhood, during which he was surrounded by the sounds of his father’s folk guitar playing and his mother’s singing. “My father and uncle would get together and play and sing all night long,” York related in his GSP Records press biography. “My mother sings and her voice is in my mind and heart from my earliest memories.… My father has an extremely good ear, and though his harmonic language was simple (diatonic folk harmony), he was quite aware of the beauty and power represented by even the simplest harmonic change, and this understanding was instilled within me.”
York learned to play folk and classical guitar at an early age and considered writing music a natural part of that process. In fact, his compositions are as acclaimed as his guitar playing. In high school his discovery of rock and roll led him to buy an electric guitar. Although at that time he focused on rock and roll, and then later on jazz playing, he never allowed his classical skills to deteriorate. Every few months he would return to his acoustic guitar to practice his way back to what he called “acceptable levels.” York rounded out this eclectic background by spending some time mastering blue-grass guitar playing, having had ample exposure to flatpickers while growing up in Virginia.
York studied music at James Madison University in Virginia, where he earned a bachelor of music degree in 1980. He then attended the University of Southern California, adding a master of music degree to his accomplishments in 1986. Upon receiving both degrees, he graduated magna cum laude. Although York focused on classical guitar during his undergraduate years, much of his study on the graduate level had been devoted to jazz technique, and he looked forward to a career as a professional jazz player. Near the end of his formal schooling, however, he decided to return to classical music, devoting himself to playing and composing in that genre.
For the Record …
Classical guitarist and composer. Compositions “Lullaby” and “Sunburst” recorded by John Williams; released first album, Perfect Sky, Timeless Records, 1989; joined Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, early 1990s.
Addresses: Home —California. Record company —GSP Recordings, 514 Bryant St., San Francisco, CA 94107-1217.
York’s first big break came in 1986 during study in Spain. In a concert at the end of the course, he played one of his original compositions, “Sunburst.” Guitarist John Williams, who happened to be in the audience, was impressed with the piece. He asked York to transcribe it and send itto him in England. Williams’s interest in the piece was not a momentary thing: not only did Williams add it to his performances, but he also recorded it. A few years later Williams began performing another York composition, “Lullaby, “eventually recording it on his Spirit of the Guitar —Music of the Americas album.
Having two compositions as part of Williams’s repertoire gave York credibility and recognition. Guitar Solo Publications agreed to publish both pieces, and subsequently added several other compositions of York’s to their catalog, including “Chilean Dance,” “Sunday Morning Overcast,” and “Perfect Sky.” All of these pieces received favorable reviews and underscored York’s versatility. Chris Kilvington wrote in a 1990 issue of Classical Guitar, “I’ve seen quite a number of York scores and he really does write expertly in his style, cool sometimes, occasionally poignant, and elsewhere creating chic flash which is irresistible to the ear. ’Sunburst’ falls into this latter category.” Of “Lullaby,” Kilvington praised, “There are no tricks, just a serene and open piece of well written guitar music.”
“Chilean Dance,” with its folk-rock influence and the flashy opening figure that repeats throughout the work, drew comparisons to “Sunburst.” Although Classical Guitar critic Paul Fowles termed it a “charming miniature,” he also warned York against overexploiting a formula. Although probably not as a result of this advice, York soon published “Perfect Sky,” which departed from his popular folky style. Lorraine Eastwood described the piece in Classical Guitar as a “beautifully constructed composition,” and as having “a sustained, fragile, almost trance-like melody.”
York’s first recording, Perfect Sky, was released in 1989, but was originally cut in 1986 as a demo tape. The recording shows off York’s eclectic background, with the musician playing both electric and acoustic guitar; drawing on classical, folk, rock, and jazz traditions; and sampling works by famous composers and his own compositions. The most praised portions of the recording were his performances of his original works, including the steel-string version of “Sunburst.”
York’s easily accessible music and its folk and jazz influences have led some to label him a New Age guitarist, a tag he has vehemently repudiated. In a 1990 interview in Classical Guitar, he explained, “My problem with [New Age music] is that it has—I’m going to get in trouble here, but so be it—New Age to me has a non-intellectual base…. If you totally disregard the intellectual portion of music and just go with textures, although that may be fine in certain contexts, that personally doesn’t feed me. I need a bit of both.” Describing himself as a contemporary classical guitarist, York explained that “most of my pieces are very well though-out, but they do draw from elements of the Renaissance and Medieval folk traditions. Also ethnic music and American folk styles…. I take in all sorts of influences.” The classical composers York cites as having an early impact on him include Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach. He cites Russian-born Stravinsky as his favorite twentieth-century composer, admiring in particular his way of using and developing themes.
York composed in slightly new directions in the early 1990s. His “Evening Dance,” recorded by Christopher Parkening and David Brandon, was written for two guitars. He followed with other ensemble pieces: “Ro-setta,” composed specifically for the Pro Arte Trio, was written for requinto, standard guitar, and 8-string guitar. “Virtu,” another guitar duet, was penned for the East-wood-Kilvington Duo. Chris Kilvington described these last two pieces in Classical Guitar as “very different, rhythmically complex, fascinating but by no means like [York’s] former works.” York also began arranging pieces for the Los Angeles Quartet, which he had joined in 1990.
Denouement, York’s second recording, was released in 1994 to favorable reviews. Diane Gordon’s assessment in Acoustic Guitar was typical: “York’s pieces are refreshingly composed, with a beginning, middle and end. Added to the winning combination of York’s impeccable technique and finely crafted compositions is the music’s potential to join the workhorse etudes for the guitar.” Jim Ferguson in Guitar Player declared that the five original suites that make up the recording “demonstrate [York’s] exceptional compositional breadth, commanding instrumental abilities, and rich tone. Rife with folk, jazz, and ancient influences, the material ranges from challenging to simple yet highly musical.”
Published by Guitar Solo Publications
Chilean Dance, 1991.
Sunday Morning Overcast, 1991.
Perfect Sky, 1992.
Evening Dance, 1993.
Perfect Sky, Timeless Records, 1989.
Denouement, GSP, 1994.
Acoustic Guitar, November/December 1994.
Classical Guitar, January 1990; June 1990; December 1991;
January 1992; June 1992; April 1993; December 1993.
Guitar Player, December 1989; July 1994.
Additional information for this profile was provided by GSP Recordings publicity materials, 1995.
—Susan Windisch Brown
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