Saturday, July 8, 2017

Guitar and Friends at 1867 Sanctuary

Thursday night (July 6) I had the great pleasure of attending a recital by a friend of mine, classical guitarist StanleyAlexandrowicz, at the 1867 Sanctuary, a de-commissioned Presbyterian church in Ewing.

To be accurate, I only heard half of the recital. A family obligation meant I couldn’t get there until 9 p.m. and it started at 8. The bit I missed was some rarely heard 19th century repertoire – when I walked in, Stanley was just finishing up the pieces at the end of the first half.

Composer Kendall Kennison has written a few pieces for guitar and Stanley played two of them on the second half of the program. Kendall is a friend from my Rutgers days when we were both students of Robert Moevs and has for many years now been a professor at Goucher College. He was there with his wife Debbie, also a good friend and a former piano student of mine, and they were celebrating Debbie’s birthday.

The half of the program I heard was worth the trip. Stanley is a excellent player and a thoughtful interpreter of music of all styles. He uses a guitar modeled after 19th century types that uses additional bass strings over a second, unfretted neck. These come in handy in both period music and some contemporary pieces written specifically to take advantage of the extra low notes. Guitar builder Tom Sommerville of Hamilton was also in attendance. [see correction at the end]

Kendall’s music (we heard the difficult Sonata No. 1 and the short romp, “Backanally”) has a jewel-like geometry – Stanley said some people have heard a darkness and unsettled quality, but I don’t hear that. I hear a kind of logical love – a fluid, sparking architecture.

Carlton Wilkinson, Stanley Alexandrowicz and Kendall Kennison. 
Photo courtesy Stanley Alexandrowicz

Also in attendance was composer and conductor Robert Butts, director of the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey []. Stanley played his “Early Morning Suite.” The style here is so conservative as to verge into historic homage (in styles ranging from Ralph Vaughan Williams to J.S. Bach), yet Butt’s music remains surprising and engaging, robust and beautiful.

The 1867 Sanctuary is a newer space and the managers are trying to increase the audience for it, to make the venue an active, vital community center for the arts. Operating costs are roughly $25,000/year, most of which is insurance, putting pressure on the group that now runs it, Preservation New Jersey, to ramp its activities and its visibility as a statewide arts attraction.

For me – who spent nearly 20 years in Trenton, moving away from there about 20 years ago – coming to the former church was the completion of a full circle: we held both my mother’s and her sister’s memorial services there when they died. My Mom went first, way back in 1982. My aunt, who was held in a kind of saintly esteem by the members of my family and her extensive community of friends, died much later, in 2007. My aunt learned the flute late in life, and got a lot of joy from it, turning it, as she did everything else, into an opportunity to make new friends and explore new horizons. I think she (and my mom) would be thrilled to see the church being developed as an arts venue.

It was great to catch up with my friends, if only for a few minutes at intermission and after the concert, sitting on benches in the old cemetery. I look forward to attending other concerts in the space.


CORRECTION: This post originally said Stanley's guitar "was built by Tom Sommerville of Hamilton." That was incorrect and my misunderstanding. See Stanley's note in the comments of this post.
--C. 7/8/17


  1. British Luthier Gary Southwell builds ALL of my concert guitars ( ) - including the 10-string, double-neck A-Series I used in that evening's Recital. It's constructed of the world's Finest Spruce from Julian Bream, and 5,000 year old Fenland Black Oak ("Bog Oak") for the back, sides, and neck! Tom Sommerville is a GREAT New Jersey guitar builder (who has repaired several of my instruments) - BRAVISSIMO to both!

    1. Ay, caramba! My misunderstanding. I'll amend the blog post.

  2. I tell inquiring listeners and audience members that "Kendall Kennison 's music is like Mozart's - EVERY note is perfect, and EVERY note is PERFECTLY placed - but in a Contemporary style!"