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Back to the music: archguitarist Peter Blanchette shakes off illness to play in new duo

  • Archguitar duo Peter Blanchette (left) and Mané Larregla play at the Northampton Center for the Arts this Friday evening.  Photo courtesy of Peter Blanchette



Staff Writer
Thursday, September 26, 2019

A year ago, Northampton guitarist Peter Blanchette was in Europe with his musical collaborator, Madrid-based Spanish guitarist Mané Larregla, working on a new album and planning to tour across western Europe.

Then things took a scary turn: Blanchette was hospitalized for spondylodiscitis, an inflammation of the intervertebral disc spaces and vertebrae in his spine.

“It can be a very dangerous infection,” Blanchette said. “I ended up in the hospital over in the Netherlands for two months. And then I had to come back here, and I had a relapse and had to have these two serious surgeries.”

But a year later, Blanchette, who plays a unique instrument that he invented — the 11-string archguitar — has recovered from his illness, and he’s once again collaborating with Larregla, this time in Northampton. The two guitarists will play this Friday as an archguitar duo at the Northampton Center for the Arts, at 33 Hawley Street, at 8 p.m.

“I look at this concert as ‘Bach, Interrupted,’ or ‘Archguitar Duo, Interrupted,’” Blanchette explained. “We really got something nice here. I was going to go back in December and finish [the album]. I was sick for a year. I’m better now, so it feels so awesome to me that he could come over, even if just for three weeks, and we can pick up where we left off.”

Blanchette and Larregla met while playing together in an electric guitar ensemble in Madrid about seven years ago. Though neither are involved in that project anymore, about two to three years ago, Blanchette, 59, who designed his unique lute-like archguitar at the age of 21, reached out to Larregla about playing as part of an archguitar duo.

“I had another made for me, sort of like an insurance,” Blanchette explained. “If something happens to this guitar, it’s not like I can go and get another one. So I had another one made. Basically a duplicate of it.”

Blanchette, who grew up playing electric guitar in rock bands, has been playing archguitar for almost four decades. What he especially loves about the instrument is its resonance.

“This instrument teaches you to play in a way that’s so soft and intimate,” he explained.

Larregla, a guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, and arranger, described learning how to play archguitar as “driving in a three-lane highway.”

“For the first thing, it’s very disorienting, but the nice thing is that it puts out as much or more of what I put in,” he added. “You play melodies and they sing in a different way. To me it’s more like playing electric guitar.”

The duo will be performing Blanchette’s arrangements of pieces by Baroque master Johann Sebastian Bach; music originally written for harpsichord by 16th-century Italian composer Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti; the work of French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau and Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi; and some 15th- and 16th-century dance music.

“You could almost say he’s playing the left hand and I’m playing the right hand, with a few exceptions,” Blanchette said of Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas. “You really have to synchronize together. But within that music he wrote for left hand and the right hand, there’s a whole band in there.”

As for the traditional dance music, Larregla described the pieces as “funky and alien rhythms,” which rely heavily on accented notes and listening to what the other player is performing.

The two archguitarists performed a preview of one of the Renaissance dance pieces last week as they sat at Blanchette’s dining room table, surrounded by rose-colored wallpaper covered in small birds and an ornate floral chandelier. The two nylon-stringed archguitars played counter melodies that flowed into one another and resonated deeply throughout the room — a sound almost akin to an upright piano.

“It’s this amazing relationship, where two voices are both independent and incredibly dependent at the same time,” Blanchette added. “It’s very hard to play the music correctly, but then you take it to the next level. I find that a lot of classical musicians I play with are a little boring and disappointing. They really don’t feel the beat like I do. I grew up playing rock ‘n’ roll, so to feel the beat is really important to me.”

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.

For more information about Friday’s concert or to purchase tickets, visit nohoarts.org/events.