For its first 10 years the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet cruised up and down the West Coast in member John Dearman’s Volvo station wagon, pulling into a town, playing a gig and moving on. Having survived that phase, it seems like nothing could break up the group originally assembled in 1980 to play at a Pepe Romero master class at the University of Southern California.
“There’s only been a couple member changes in that time,” said Scott Tennant, one of the founding members. “We all started out as friends, just playing music together.”
After that, “we started getting gigs and concerts,” he said, and in 1981 the quartet played its first highly publicized event at what has been called the “historic” Segovia master class.
Success did not come quickly, but that was OK.
“We committed early on to making it work,” Tennant said. “A lot of groups give up too soon. They throw a lot of publicity out there for a couple of years, make a couple of recordings, and then if they don’t take off right away they give up.”
Today, nearly 40 years down the road, the quartet has much to show for its perseverance, including a 15-title discography, two Grammy nominations and one Grammy Award, for its 2005 disc “Guitar Heroes.”
“We kind of give ourselves a lot of space when we’re not working hard,” Tennant said of the secret of the ensemble’s longevity. “And we work really hard” — still gathering one day a week to rehearse for three or four hours, and also for short intense bursts when working on a project — “but then we have long periods of time where we give ourselves a break, we leave each other alone, we let everyone do our own thing: family, other projects.”
Ultimately, he said, “I think we still do it because we really love doing it.”
Tennant, Dearman, Bill Kanengiser and Matthew Greif will do “it” here at the Grand Teton Music Festival, performing at 8 tonight at Walk Festival Hall in Teton Village. In addition to some long-standing favorites of their repertoire — arrangements of Rossini’s Overture from “The Barber of Seville,” Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” and selections from Manuel de Falla’s “El amor brujo” — the quartet will perform works by contemporaries Robert Beaser and Frederic Hand, and parts of a suite jazz guitar god Pat Metheny wrote for the group in 2016, “Road to the Sun.”
“We played and performed and recorded ‘Letter from Home,’” the title track from Metheny’s 1989 Grammy-winning album, “and Pat heard about it,” Tennant said. Some years later the two met at the Crown Guitar Festival in Bigfork, Montana. “We started to talk about our different styles, and that turned into a curiosity between the two of us of whether he could write something for us. And he agreed.”
It took a couple years, but Metheny eventually presented the quartet with “Road to the Sun,” a six-movement paean to the West originally inspired by Metheny’s visit to Glacier National Park after having heard the quartet for the first time. Reviewing the Oct. 20 premiere in Denver, DownBeat magazine said “The LAGQ artfully supplied all the virtuosity and musical insight required to bring Metheny’s tale to life,” making use of “a stunning array of natural guitar effects.” And Classical Guitar Magazine said the group “played with characteristic grace and virtuosity, which masked the difficulty of the music.”
Work is afoot for a recording of the piece, which Tennant said Metheny expects to release on his label this year.
Tickets for “GTMF Presents: The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet” cost $30, and are free for students. Call 733-1128 or visit GTMF.org for info. ￼