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Fanfare Magazine Archive of CD Reviews

Interview by Robert Schulslaper, Review by Henry

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A Conversation with James Lentini Finding Titles of Musical Works
By Robert Schulslaper

Throughout the last 32 years, James NOT TO BE MISSED!

Lentini has successfully juggled a
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trio of demanding careers: prize-
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winning composer, performer (he’s
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His conversation with Ray Tuttle in Ad Blocker for this site
the Nov/December 2010 issue
(Fanfare 34:2) focused on his
highly praised disc of chamber Through Time & Place
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music for Naxos’s American NAVONA
Classics series, along the way Buy Now from
adding insight into his thoughts on
music, accessibility, the interrelation of composer and
performer, the genesis of the works, and his role as (at the
time) dean of the School of Fine Arts and professor of music
at Miami University in Ohio. His latest CD, Through Time
and Place, is the happy occasion that has brought him back
for his second Fanfare appearance.

Your first all-Lentini disc was released in 2010. Now you’re

following it with a second recording for larger forces, in a
sense providing an answer to Ray Tuttle’s “waiting to see
whether he will make a Grand Statement or refine his
already considerable talent for creating refined haiku.”
Would this be what Ray was waiting for? Had you been
writing for orchestra, band, and chorus all along, or were
these sides of your musical personality only “liberated” in
the interim?

I had been writing larger works all along, and it was simply
the case that these pieces had not been released on a
recording until now. The disc you’re referencing was
released in 2010 on the Naxos American Classics series and
was thematic in the sense that the pieces were all chamber
works. On the new recording, Through Time and Place
(released March 13, 2020), the pieces are all larger in
instrumentation (mostly orchestra) and are more expansive in

In addition to Through Time and Place, there’s a new

recording of your Guitar Concerto.

My Concerto for Guitar and Strings was recorded by the

terrific Cuban guitarist Iliana Matos as soloist with the
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Zagreb Festival Orchestra and released on the Navona label

in 2019. I was able to attend the recording session in Zagreb,
Croatia, produced by Parma Recordings. The orchestra’s
string section was quite good, the concert hall was great, and
Iliana Matos is a master guitarist, so I was quite happy with
the result. The roots of the concerto go back to sketches I had
made way back in the days when I was playing the classical
guitar all day and playing my electric guitar in bands all over
the Detroit area in the evenings. The style is generally more
direct than that of the compositions on Through Time and
Place, but as Iliana Matos told me, the sonorous and fluid
sound of the piece belies the intricate complexities in the
solo part that may not be so obvious to the listener.

Have you ever performed it yourself, or would you like to?

Yes, indeed, I have performed the concerto, most recently in

2014, with an ensemble from Oakland University during my
first year of arriving on campus as Provost. I had played the
concerto previously with the Livonia (MI) Symphony.

Is this your only concerto?

Yes, the Guitar Concerto is the only one I’ve written. As

with most of my compositions, I can only spend time now on
works that are commissioned or have a guaranteed
performance—especially for larger works. I have thought
about writing a second guitar concerto, or maybe something
for violin. My oldest son is a violinist, and it would be fun to
Fanfare Archive Subscriber- write something he’d be interested in playing someday.
Only Features
While the Guitar Concerto stands alone among your works
 Watch Reviewed Videos (at least temporarily), you’ve actually written quite a lot for
James Kreger: CHOPIN,
solo guitar, perhaps enough for another CD?
BRAHMS, BEETHOVEN In fact, I already do have a recording available of my guitar
compositions. It is entitled The Four Seasons for Guitar and
Pedro H. da Silva / Lucía Caruso:
Jeanne d’Arc, Le Voyage dans la Lune
was released in 2014 (available at Amazon, Spotify,
AppleMusic, etc.). It features my guitar playing and my
Varda Kotler: YouTube Channel original compositions. The disc includes a piece I wrote
named The Four Seasons, commissioned by my former
classical guitar teacher, Charles Postlewate. He spent nearly
Fanfare Archive Advertisers 20 years late in his career on extending the right-hand
Buy & Sell Classical CDs at Princeton technique of classical guitar playing to include the use of the
Record Exchange little finger, which classical guitarists generally do not use.
He published my Four Seasons in a Mel Bay anthology with
well-known guitarist-composers, who all contributed works
that include the extended right-hand technique. The recording
also has a piece for soprano and guitar entitled Mother Songs,
sung by my wife, Dana Lentini, with texts by Kathleen
Fraser. There’s a great story about the texts. I was writing
Mother Songs when anticipating the birth of our first child in
1995. I found these great poems by poet Kathleen Fraser in a
bookstore. I emailed her for permission to use the texts,
which she kindly granted. In 2002, I was a visiting artist at
the American Academy in Rome, and Dana and I had been
invited to give a performance for guitar and voice at the Santa
Cecilia Conservatory, including Mother Songs.
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When we got to Rome, I sent Kathleen Fraser an email

letting her know about the performance, and she replied:
“What time is the concert, we live close to the conservatory
—we’ll be there!” It was quite a surprise, as we’d never met
Kathleen, and it turned out that she and her husband had an
apartment in Italy, in addition to their home in San Francisco.
I found out recently that Kathleen passed away just last year
(2019), so we were fortunate to have such a wonderful
coincidence that allowed us to meet in person and get to
know her.

Has the Postlewate/Mel Bay anthology been published? If so,

how have his ideas been received by guitarists?

Oh, yes, Charles Postlewate’s Contemporary Anthology of

Solo Guitar Music for Five Fingers of the Right Hand was
published by Mel Bay in 2009. It is still available. My Four
Seasons for Guitar is in the anthology. I’m sad to say that
Charles passed away suddenly in July 2019, but his several
publications with Mel Bay have allowed his work to get out
into the world. I just finished writing a tribute to Charles that
will be included in the Guitar Foundation of America’s
Soundboard Magazine. Charles commissioned me to
compose the piece, which was published by Mel Bay in 2009.
There’s also a video of me performing a couple of
movements from the suite, in addition to a live performance
of the Guitar Concerto, on my YouTube channel: As for the reaction from guitarists,
many important guitarists believe that Postlewate’s work is
significant and has built on forays into utilizing the little
finger of the right hand dating back to Dionisio Aguado in
1825. I spoke with guitarist and former editor for Guitar
Player Magazine, Jim Ferguson, about Postlewate. Jim was a
ghostwriter for a column by famed jazz guitarist Lenny Breau
in Guitar Player. Jim said that Lenny intrinsically used the
little finger of the right hand in his playing. Ferguson knew
Charles Postlewate, and also contributed a composition to the
Mel Bay Anthology. In 1984, Jim Ferguson asked Charles to
write an article about the right-hand technique for Guitar
Player. In speaking with Jim, we both acknowledge that it
may be difficult to change the tradition of using only the
thumb and three fingers of the right hand. That said, Charles
Postlewate’s contribution is very important to the pedagogy
of the guitar.

Did you ever aspire to a career as a classical guitarist?

I have had many times in my career where performing on the

classical guitar has been front and center. Since 2003 I have
been a dean for 10 years and now a provost for seven, and the
time I have had to compose and perform during this stage of
my career has been challenged. That said, I have had the
opportunity in recent years to turn my attention to
performing, including duo performances with my wife,
soprano Dana Lentini. We were featured at the international
Fiuggi Guitar Festival in Italy (2016), and I’ve also appeared
with guitarist Celino Romero of the famed Los Romeros
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guitar quartet playing duos on the Detroit Chamber Music

Society concert series in 2017 and 2014.

Do you, like Berlioz and Paganini before you, use your guitar
when composing, or do you prefer to write directly “to

Good question. If I’m writing for the guitar, I typically do so

with the instrument in hand. The challenge with this is to not
allow ideas to be limited to what my hands are used to doing.
There can be a natural tendency to go for gestures and
motives that fit the instrument well and are already built into
my technique, which can be a good thing, but often times the
development of an idea calls for voicing or voice leading that
is not comfortable in the hands. When this happens, it can
lead to some very interesting challenges and new approaches
that I find to be healthy and necessary. When I’m not writing
for the guitar, I’m usually writing on a keyboard and
computer with Finale notation software, which I have been
using for many years. My first college position was at Wayne
State University in 1988, which was rooted in building up an
electronic music program. I created the Music Technology
degree program at Wayne State, and I had the opportunity to
build a new recording studio and computer labs, so my roots
are strong when it comes to using technology.

About your Three Sacred Meditations, which sets various

biblical texts to music: Are you a religious person?

Religion is something that has played an important part in my

life. I am someone who grew up going to Catholic school and
my faith has been something I’ve practiced since childhood.
However, like many adults, my relationship with faith has
changed and transformed over the years with life experiences
that alter our perspectives. The wonderful thing about the
church and music is the close connection of the two that
resulted in some of the most important music ever written in
all of humankind. I started singing in the school choir in
grade school, learning how to read music, solfege, singing in
Latin, and performing works by Bach and Mozart. Those
choral and singing in church experiences always stayed with
me. When I was at the University of Southern California
working on my DMA in composition, I studied with Morten
Lauridsen, who has become one of the most recognized
American choral composers of all time. For Three Sacred
Meditations, I received an arts grant from the State of
Michigan that supported my work for a large-scale piece, so I
chose to write for chorus, orchestra, and soprano soloist. At
the time, I was on the faculty at Wayne State University, and
each year, the music department did a major concert around
Thanksgiving time at Old St. Mary’s Church in downtown
Detroit, featuring a major chorus and orchestra piece, such as
a Mozart Mass. I wrote a work that would be premiered at the
annual concert, which took place on November 21, 2000. The
biblical texts I chose about peace, renewal, and trust speak to
me in a way that has meaning, so setting these words to
music fit the grand idea that I had for a work of large forces.
Fanfare Magazine Archive of CD Reviews

Your wife, Dana, the wonderful soprano soloist in Three

Sacred Meditations, is also the dedicatee. Seeing that the two
of you have collaborated as a duo for years, has her talent
inspired you to write more for the voice?

I probably haven’t written as much for voice as I should. I

have sung my whole life, from choruses to rock bands, but
my compositional opportunities have tended to emerge with
greater frequency in instrumental areas. I am at a stage in my
career now, though, where I must be very selective with my
time and the projects I choose, and I would like to write
something for a cappella choir. I have been asked before, and
just never made it happen. The same thing holds for solo
voice. I’ve written works for my wife to sing, and I also have
an earlier piece for piano and soprano based on the poems of
Carl Sandburg. Maybe it is time for me to make my next
project something for voice.

When did you and Dana start making music together?

I met my wife, Dana, at the University of Southern

California, when I was working on my doctorate in music
composition, studying with Morten Lauridsen and Robert
Linn, and she was pursuing her voice performance degree.
The first time we performed, I accompanied her on a voice
recital at USC, and I remember us doing a set of Benjamin
Britten’s folk song arrangements at the very beginning. This
is going back to the late 1980s. Since that time, we’ve
performed in various venues and concert series. Because our
activities have kept us quite busy with multiple
commitments, mine in composition and academic
administration and Dana’s with a voice program she has
created named “Born 2 Sing,” we’ve had to plan our time and
performing commitments accordingly. When we performed
at the international Fiuggi Guitar Festival in Italy and in the
same year the Summer Concert Series at Meadow Brook Hall
(Oakland University), we had to put other things aside and
dedicate some practice time in preparation. Over the last
couple of years, Dana has been working on her voice
research and has an upcoming book published by Hal
Leonard entitled Teaching the Child Singer, and the last
composition I’ve been able to find time to write was a piece
for carillon entitled Ulysses’ Sail for the dedication of the
Elliott Carillon Tower at Oakland University (2014).

According to the booklet notes, Dreamscape’s title owes

something to science fiction/fantasy author Roger Zelazny.
Are you especially fond of SF?

I like science fiction, but no more than the average person, I

think. With Dreamscape, I did have in mind writing a work
that would paint a colorful musical landscape. I was
exploring various poems and literary references to dreams
and I ran across Zelazny’s poem Dreamscape in a poetry
book entitled Burning with a Vision, edited by Robert
Frazier, subtitled “Poetry of Science and the Fantastic.” In
Zelazny’s poem there is a line referencing “Cathedral bells in
the city,” and later, “I heard the bells expel.”
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I knew, then, two things: My composition would be entitled

Dreamscape, and I would utilize tubular bells, which are
prominent at a culminating point near the end of the piece.

According to the booklet notes, Dreamscape’s title owes

something to science fiction/fantasy author Roger Zelazny.
Are you especially fond of SF?

Recalling Robert Kirzinger’s comment about Dreamscape’s

“Impressionistic mood,” reviewer Henry Fogel goes on to
say that he “really responded to this music, because it shows
Lentini as an imaginative colorist and tone-painter.”

I’ll take the compliment and I’m glad that my intention of

painting a coloristic musical landscape seemed to
communicate. Instrumental music is by its nature abstract,
but in my own writing, I compose and make musical choices
based on what my instincts tell me and I seek ideas that my
ear and mind respond to in a way that elicits something of
interest, whether emotionally or from some purely musical
place. The job of the composer is then to be able to use the
craft they have developed to do something creative with the
idea that has musical and structural integrity. Composers
have many tools they can use, and for Dreamscape, the ideas
were on multiple levels that included an integration of color
variance through orchestration that paints the musical picture
of a futuristic dream-like atmosphere.

One of my first thoughts on listening to Through Time and

Place was that this was “American” music. Does that
resonate with you?

Certainly, I am a product of the many types of music I have

heard and played over my lifetime. Having grown up in
Detroit, which is a great musical town, I heard and played
rock, jazz, and classical music, and loved them all. I played in
a rock band starting in high school that had instrumentation
like the band Chicago with three brass instruments. I played
lead guitar, sang, and learned how to arrange for the trumpet,
sax, and trombone. It was all a great experience. As I moved
toward the classical guitar and learned pieces by Cuban
composer/guitarist Leo Brouwer and others, I was absorbed
in expanding my musical language. I learned by studying the
great 20th-century masters from the Berg to Bartók, and also
from American composers, including Copland, whom I had
the opportunity to meet once when I was a student. All of that
said, I think my music reflects the things I love most—an
interesting harmonic underpinning that is at times sonorous
and has identifiable structures mixed with more complex and
sometimes dissonant formations, often with melodic themes.
Though I am of Italian heritage, having a completely
American upbringing likely makes my style an amalgam of
all of the influences I mentioned and many more.
Fanfare Magazine Archive of CD Reviews

Composers often speak of their quest to find their own

“voice.” Has this ever been a preoccupation of yours?

Not in an outward way. I write music that I want to write,

and I hope that it connects in some way to the performer and
listener. I see music as a shared experience, and the
composer is the creator of that experience. I can only do it in
my voice, of course. I suppose there is a danger for less
aware composers to emulate a style they like and to get so
close to a particular vein as not to sound “original,” however
that might be interpreted. I remember having this
conversation once with the eminent composer Leslie Bassett,
who said: “no one will ever put the same notes and rhythms
together in exactly the way as you will.” I thought his view
was interesting. His point, I think, was that he wasn’t always
worried about trying to write in a musical language that no
one else has ever tried, or that every piece needs to be an
experiment of some kind. I’ve written experimental works,
so I certainly endorse the notion of trying to find new ways
to make music, but I don’t think it is required that composers
must create a new musical language with every piece. The
challenge is to write something that hopefully provides a
fresh perspective and that one’s voice emerges over time
through the composer’s body of work.

Earlier you alluded to the conditions under which you will

accept new commissions, so you’ve anticipated my next
question, but I’ll ask it anyway: Is it difficult to find time to
compose, given your administrative responsibilities?

The short answer is “yes.” I’ve been a faculty member for 32

years and a university administrator in one way or another
for 23 of those years, with each role increasing in
responsibility and time commitment. I was a department
chair, dean, and provost, and I’ve just been named as
President-Elect of Molloy College, located on Long Island,
New York. The great thing about my next appointment is that
Molloy is a Catholic College that is strong in the arts, in
addition to nursing, business, education, and sciences—all
areas in which I have deep experience in overseeing. I’ll
hope to be able to continue my music-making with select

You told Ray that you started playing the guitar when you
were eight, but when did you begin to compose?

My first compositions were for the rock band I was in

starting at age 15. It was a great band of very close friends—
a wonderful experience for me. It was also a great training
ground to write arrangements and compose original songs.
The name of the band was Network. We recorded originals
that we pitched to A&R directors at recording labels back in
the day, and had hopes of getting signed and touring. It’s a
tough business, of course, so as years went by, I entered
college for music at Wayne State University as a classical
guitar major, then started taking composition classes and
loved it, so I added composition as a major.[4/19/20, 8:49:57 AM]

Fanfare Magazine Archive of CD Reviews

Who were some of your teachers?

At Wayne State, I began writing small pieces while studying

with James Hartway, who is still a dear friend of mine. My
guitar teachers at Wayne State were Charles (“Chuck”)
Postlewate and Joe Fava. All of these teachers had a great
influence on my growth and furthered my desire to be a
professional musician. I graduated from WSU and attended
Michigan State University to study with Jere Hutcheson. I
loved it at MSU as well, and Jere pushed me to expand my
use of a complex musical language. My wanderlust led me to
move to California, and I attended The University of
Southern California to do a DMA with Morten Lauridsen and
Robert Linn, after a short stint at UCLA. Lauridsen is a
master at writing for the voice, and Linn had a great sense of
humor, which often made its way into his music. USC was
perfect for me, with a great guitar program and composition.
I received my degree in composition with guitar as a cognate
area. I also took guitar lessons with Bill Kanengiser of the
L.A. Guitar Quartet.

Where will your career take you next?

I’m beginning a new journey in my life as I begin my new

role as President of Molloy College in Rockville Centre, New
York. The College is on Long Island, about 25 miles from
New York City, so I’m looking forward to being involved in
the music and arts culture of New York. As I mentioned
earlier, I’d like to compose something for a cappella choir
and other types of vocal works, though I’ve learned that plans
can change depending on new opportunities and commissions
that may arise. My duties as President will take precedence,
of course, but Dana and I are very excited to join the
Rockville Centre community, along with our artistic children,
including adult sons Luke (a violinist) and Noah (musical
theater), and our daughter Evalina (a dancer). All are thrilled
that the family home will be in such a culturally rich area.

Any parting thoughts about Through Time and Place?

Through Time and Place is a recording that provides an

overview of several large-scale works I’ve written over the
years, performed by top-flight international ensembles,
including the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra, The Bohuslav
Martinů Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Kraków
Philharmonic Orchestra. It also has a personal touch for me
by featuring a work for chorus, orchestra, and soprano soloist
sung by my wife, Dana Lentini, with forces from Wayne
State University, where I was a professor of music for 15
years. Another added personal expression is in the piece The
Angel’s Journey, dedicated to the memory of my
grandparents. I hope that the works entertain and pique the
interest of the listener, while providing an enjoyable, and
perhaps even moving experience.
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