Rockstars are typically depicted as energetic performers with long dark hair, screaming into a microphone and backlit by intense lights swirling the enormous crowd into focus. “Looking Bach, Moving Forward,” a classical guitar performance that took place Nov. 5 at Pomona College’s Bridges Hall of Music, was nothing like this description — other than the long hair part. Nonetheless, it delivered an intensity, passion and emotion just as strong as any rockstar image.
Aaron Larget-Caplan, an international guitarist and arranger who composes and shares music, provided a show that had viewers leaning over the balcony of Little Bridges to catch a glimpse of his skills.
Larget-Caplan was assisted by Tom Flaherty, a theory and composition, electronic music and chamber music professor at Pomona College, and other community members from the 5Cs. This made for an impressive show, according to audience member McKenna Blinman SC ’24.
“[The show] was different than anything I’ve ever seen on guitar,” she said.
The classical guitar is an acoustic instrument that uses nylon strings — as compared to the steel strings of an electrical guitar — that are plucked with one’s fingers. Larget-Caplan started playing electric guitar when he was around the age of ten, finding the classical guitar around sixteen.
Since then, he never stopped. Larget-Caplan spent the rest of his school years studying how to hone his skills.
“I really just wanted to devote my life to music,” he said.
And indeed he did. Today, Larget-Caplan is praised for his technique and is recognized internationally for his technique and skill through a variety of performance styles.
Pomona welcomed Larget-Caplan to its stage with the assistance of Flaherty, who frequently writes music and plays the cello. The pair first met when Larget-Caplan reached out to Flaherty to compose a piece called “Steps and Leaps” for the classical guitar.
Flaherty had already finished the piece, but it was not originally written for guitar. After two years of exchanging ideas via email, Flaherty and Larget-Caplan had plans to meet and discuss how to adapt the piece in March 2020 at Pomona. Then, COVID-19 canceled the anticipated meeting and postponed the concert for two years.
“We haven’t met in person until two weeks ago,” Larget-Caplan said. “I feel like I’ve known him for years, but I didn’t meet him in person until he came to Boston for a concert two [or] three weeks ago.”
This postponement didn’t destroy their connection, however. Rather, it allowed them to meet over Zoom and work together to perfect their piece.
Finding the right notation when converting the original composition into a piece playable for guitar is a difficult task. To take on this challenge, the pair had to communicate concerning the complex sections.
“It’s a pleasure to work with an honest performer who will admit that [the notation] is not practical,” Flaherty said.
Their honesty and trust continued to build over time. Larget-Caplan compared their time together working on the piece as a first date. By testing the waters, and discovering how the other person works, they were able to work together on a mind-blowing piece while forging a great friendship in the process.
“I got to get an idea of [Flaherty’s] musical language and what his flavor is,” Larget-Caplan said.
Saturday was the first debut of their work. Flaherty used an electronic computer system to interact with the notes Larget-Caplan played. This collective sound created an effect which audience member Louise Schiele SC ’24 had never seen before.
“[The performance] was eye-opening in what you can do with music and new ways of seeing a very old instrument like the guitar,” she said.
The creativity and uniqueness of the performance allowed for a new environment at the 5Cs.
“Music is such an intrinsic part of the human experience,” Blinman said. “We get to see all different kinds of music [at the Claremont Colleges] and create a new relationship with it.”
Career paths in the music industry are often difficult, but for many musicians, this constantly adapting relationship to music allows a love to flourish.
“It’s a balancing act, and it’s a lifetime,” Larget-Caplan said. “I hope to play until the day I die.”
This advice was expanded upon by Flaherty.
“You have to work the rest of your life [but] then the angst diminishes and the pleasure increases,” he said.
The joy Flaherty described was apparent for Larget-Caplan while performing on stage.
“As a person who wanted to be a rockstar, this is about as close to being a rockstar as I get,” Larget-Caplan said.