Classical guitarist to play lost pieces


Courtesy of Brian Torosian

By Alex Fiore

The music of the 1800s is alive in DeKalb.

Classical guitarist Brian Torosian will perform at 5 p.m. Sunday in the Music Building Recital Hall.

Torosian, guitar program director at Northeastern University, will perform six pieces with soprano Diane Ragains.The pieces will include multiple compositions by Johann Kaspar Mertz,a relatively obscure 19th century composer.

Mertz was a skilled guitar composer living and touring in Europe during the first half of the 19th century, and is one of Torosian’s main influences.

“What intrigues me about his music is the more miniature pieces, the evocative pieces, the descriptive pieces that he writes,” Torosian said. “Things that no other guitar composer did.”

Torosian said while Mertz is known for his virtuosic concert arrangements, Mertz’s lesser-known compositions are just as good.

“He has all these lighter, sentimental things that are really incredibly well done,” he said. “There’s a great variety of art in his music and I really like it. It speaks to me.”

Torosian added to Mertz’s composition list after discovering three of his lost pieces in an American archive. When Torosian transcribed the manuscripts, it was the first time they had been written down in a century.

“These pieces were lost and I found three copies,” Torosian said. “It’s about 100 pages of music – these huge concert pieces for guitar and piano.”

When Torosian played the compositions with a pianist, it was likely the first time they had been played since Mertz’s death in 1856.

“I assume we’re the first people to ever play the pieces since the composer himself,” Torosian said. “It’s a really rare thing in classical music to say that.”

Torosian edited a book of Mertz compositions called Selected Operatic Fantasies of Mertz and released a six-track album with pianist David Schrader called Mertz: Guitar & Piano Duos.The album is available on iTunes and Amazon. Torosian was interested in string instruments from a very young age.

“I picked up the ukulele when I was 17 months old,” he said.

Torosian was attracted to the guitar at age five, teaching himself the craft until taking lessons in college.

“There was that magic box I wanted to touch and play all the time,” Torosian said of his initial attraction to the instrument.

Torosian is also adept at playing the lute and the mandolin.

Growing up, Torosian learned to play electric guitar while listening to rock acts like Deep Purple and Yes and maintains respect for electric guitarists with arrangement talent.

“Steve Morse [of Deep Purple] is someone who can write and play in every style,” Torosian said.

Once Torosian reached college, he focused on performing classical music.

“There was a whole side of the guitar that I had no idea about,” he said. “I loved it.”

Torosian has been performing with Ragains, an NIU Professor Emeritus of Music, for fifteen years.

“We’ve never done these songs,” he said. “They’re brand new for both of us.”

Torosian said Ragains will perform in an Austrian dialect.

The performance is free and will be followed by a reception. The performance will also be webcast on the NIU School of Music website.