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UVic prof makes mark on guitar world

What: GuitarWorks, with Alexander Dunn, guitar. When/where: Saturday, 8 p.m., Phillip T. Young Recital Hall (School of Music, MacLaurin Building, University of Victoria). Tickets: Adults $17.50, seniors, students, and alumni $13.50.

What: GuitarWorks, with Alexander Dunn, guitar.

When/where: Saturday, 8 p.m., Phillip T. Young Recital Hall (School of Music, MacLaurin Building, University of Victoria).

Tickets: Adults $17.50, seniors, students, and alumni $13.50. Call 250-721-8480; online at; in person at the U.Vic. Ticket Centre.

Last year, the guitarist Alexander Dunn (like the Lafayette String Quartet members) celebrated his 20th year teaching in the University of Victoria's School of Music. He will mark that milestone on Saturday evening, joined by fellow faculty members as well as students, in the school's latest faculty recital, GuitarWorks.

For the occasion, Dunn has programmed four modern chamber-music works featuring the guitar, including George Crumb's Quest (1994) and Elliott Carter's Luimen (1997), two sextets that are complicated enough to require a conductor (Justin Boechler, a graduate student).

Quest, while not programmatic, is highly evocative, inspired (in Crumb's words) by "the concept of a 'quest' as a long tortuous journey toward an ecstatic and transfigured feeling of 'arrival'," and influenced by writers including Dante and Lorca.

As for Carter's music, Dunn (who was once coached by Carter at a festival) describes it as "tough and resilient, with an aggressive beauty and broad expressive palette," though he singles out Luimen as "one of his most accessible works."

The concert will open with the guitar-and-harp sonata Spirit of Trees, Op. 374 (1983), by Alan Hovhaness, which Dunn describes as "spiritual and lyrical," and will also include the darkly passionate, operatically intense song cycle Six Interiors (1966), by Nicholas Maw, based on poems by Thomas Hardy (it will be sung by soprano Anne Grimm).

Dunn's goal is to offer a concert of "high-quality music" that "avoids clichés" and "represents what I have wanted to do at UVic." His program is intriguing and ambitious; the music is technically difficult, stylistically wide-ranging, and hardly over-familiar (Luimen and Six Interiors, indeed, will receive their Canadian premières). Maw, who died in 2009, was English, but the other three composers are Americans, two of them still alive and still composing - Crumb at age 82, Carter, astonishingly, at age 103.

(If Mozart had lived to 103, he could have heard Tristan und Isolde and attended Schumann's funeral. Schubert at 103 would have outlived Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, and Brahms and witnessed the dawn of the 20th century. Sigh .)

Dunn, 55, a native of Southern California, is both a performer and a scholar. He earned performance degrees from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, then a Ph.D. in musicology at the University of California, San Diego.

Not surprisingly, he is a musician of impressive breadth. He plays guitars from every historical period (his doctoral dissertation was on the theorbo, a kind of lute), and his repertoire spans four centuries; he has worked with period-instrument specialists in early music, researched 19thcentury performance practices, given premières of new music, and participated in multi-media projects.

Dunn moved to Victoria from San Diego in 1990, and since 1991 has taught at both UVic and the Victoria Conservatory of Music. But he maintains an international career, as well. He has performed solo recitals, chamber music and concertos all over the world, and is in demand as a teacher and adjudicator.

Last year, for instance, in addition to his handful of local concerts, he made appearances in Vancouver, Montreal, Boston and New York; this year, he is scheduled to perform in several U.S. states and at a guitar festival in Thailand.

Shortly after settling here, Dunn founded the nonprofit Victoria Guitar Society, which organizes concerts and teaching opportunities for local professionals and students and for some of the world's best guitarists and lutenists. The society brings in established stars like the Spanish guitarist Pepe Romero, who taught Dunn in San Diego and, over the years, has developed a close relationship with Victoria (he holds an honorary doctorate from UVic), but it also sponsors up-and-comers like the Swedish guitarist-composer Johannes Möller, the 2010 winner of the Guitar Foundation of America's International Concert Artist Competition, who will perform in Wood Hall on March 30.

Dunn refers to the society as "a labour of love," and it is he who shoulders most of its burdens, without corporate support and only occasionally with the help of private patrons. But his efforts have yielded a vibrant local guitar community. The conservatory offers a guitar academy every summer, while UVic has attracted several international graduate students. The annual Northwest Guitar Festival has been held here several times. Two excellent guitar makers live here, and some local composers have written new works for the instrument. As Dunn notes, Victoria, despite its modest size and comparative remoteness, has become a "guitar destination."