Morgan Szymanski (guitar) and Harriet Mackenzie (violin) at the London Classical Guitar Festival, Bolivar Hall, 13th of September 2011. Reviewed by Thérèse Wassily Saba.

The Mexican guitarist Morgan Szymanski who lives in London gave a rectal with the British violinist Harriet Mackenzie to open the fourth edition of the London Classical Guitar Festival, which is organised annually by ILAMS (the Iberian and Latin American Music Society). Their programme included arrangements of folk songs such as Estrellita by Manuel M.Ponce arranged for guitar and violin by Morgan Szymanski, Romanian Folk Dances by Bela Bartók and Spanish Folk Songs by Manuel de Falla. Harriet Mackenzie announced that she had heard the original field recordings which Bela Bartók had collected in 1915 and one could hear this in her bowing style, her use of glissandi, the phrasing and beautifully played melodic lines in the Romanian Five Folk Songs: Joc cu bata, Braul, Buciumeana, Poarca Romaneasca, and with a powerful and focused performance of the very rhythmic Maruntel.

Each of the performers played solos: Morgan Szymanski gave a very good performance of the tremolo piece Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios by Agustín Barrios Mangoré and Harriet Mackenzie gave a soothing performance of the Andante from Sonata in A minor BWV1003 by J.S. Bach as a violin solo.

Paganini was famous for writing violin and guitar duets with a virtuosic part for the violin and a very plain and simple part for the guitarist. The exception to this is Paganini’s three-movement Sonata Concertata in A Major Op.61 (1804) which has technically balanced parts for violin and guitar; Morgan Szymanski played his own small cadenzas in there as well.  They finished the concert with two movements from Astor Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango, building slowly to a fortissimo and with an excellent feel for the syncopations in the rhythm.

Those of you who recall the dramatic robbery of Morgan Szymanski’s (and Craig Ogden’s) guitars, under the pretence of each of them playing at a funeral in a central London church – different churches but on the same day – may be wondering what Morgan Szymanski is paying at the moment. He is now performing on a guitar by the Chinese guitar maker, Yulong Guo, which fared very well alongside Harriet Mackenzie’s historic instrument.

Morgan Szymanski and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields by Thérèse Wassily Saba.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields was founded in 1958 by Sir Neville Marriner; it is a chamber orchestra with a long history of working with guitarists. On this occasion there was no conductor and the lead violinist, Kenneth Sillito, took on the role of leading/conducting the orchestra of 17 instrumentalists. They began with the Holberg Suite Op.40  by Grieg. The sound they produced was rich and filled the Wigmore Hall. Their dynamics were carefully planned and the contrasts between piano and forte dynamics were very clear.

The Mexican guitarist Morgan Szymanski joined the Academy for the Guitar Concerto RV93 in D major by Vivaldi. Positioned in the centre of the ensemble and although he played without any amplification, I could still hear his guitar and the changes of timbres at the back of the hall, in this solidly good performance of the work.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields performed the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9 by Villa-Lobos. The work was completed in 1945 and exists in two versions: one for choir, singing without words, and in the version we heard here for chamber ensemble (no guitar, of course). The work builds very dramatically into what Villa-Lobos described as ‘the suggestion of a large organ’.

The Concerto for Guitar and String Orchestra by the Irish/German composer Alec Roth was written for Morgan Szymanski. The orchestration was very attractive; Alec Roth used the resources of the guitar and string ensemble very well to create attractive sound colours, such as his use of pizzicato strings against strummed chords on the guitar. There is an effective and beautiful tremolo section later. One could hear the pleasure of the composer in creating these sounds. The Concerto had a distinctly individual nature and did not sound like anyone else’s composition.

The Concerto starts with the guitar playing solo in harmonics, followed by an ettouffe ostinato passage, which acts as an introduction for the string orchestra. The ostinato on the guitar continues but with a building up of ideas and thus the music is immediately engaging and easy to follow. The catchy rhythm of the first movement, March, added to this accessibility. The Serenade second movement has a more relaxed and romantic character, with gentle and soothing harmony, ending dramatically with the strings using contemporary playing techniques, such as creating the sounds of noisy seagulls by squeaking up and down their fingerboards with their bows. The Nocturne third movement has two distinctive characters: the gentle lullaby contrasted with the more frightening fears that come upon us in the dark. The final movement called Fiesta is as lively as its title suggests and ends with a very positive feel.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Morgan Szymanski have been touring with the Concerto for Guitar and String Orchestra by Alec Roth since October 2010. This was its London première.

After a very busy summer tour of the UK, China and Mexico the autumn season promises to be equally rewarding! During the Shenyang Guitar Festival in China, Morgan Szymanski and China`s master luthier, Mr. Yulong Guo developed an important relationship. Mr. Yulong Guo`s instruments are unique and this promises to be the beginning of a very fruitful relationship between musician and luthier. For more information on Yulong Guo guitars please visit

Morgan Szymanski will also be embarking on the `Sketches of Mexico Project`. The project will involve the wonderful music of Mexican composer Julio Cesar Oliva. The focus of the project will be his 20 Mexican Sketches (Veinte Estampas de Mexico) a musical journey across the many states and famous sites of Mexico. Morgan visited Mr Oliva in Mexico City and played the pieces to him. Mr Oliva is delighted with the project and will dedicate a new piece for Morgan.

The project will also involve visual artists from Mexico, the UK, Ireland, Portugal and China. Each artist will create a visual work inspired on the music and locations. The project will be launched in early 2012 and will involve interactive concerts as well as exhibitions of the works. There will be a strong educational side to the project which will involve working with art and music students in Mexico and the UK.

Concerts this season include two performances at the Ripon International Festival as well as the ILAMS/Bolivar Hall Guitar Festival in London sharing the stage with violinist Harriet Mackenzie and playing duets with Brazilian guitar legend Celso Machado. For information please visit the concert diary.

Other engagements include Szymanski`s debut with Northern Sinfonia, playing Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” at the Sage Gateshead as well as concerts with ODuo, Trinity Orchestra, and the Adderbury Ensemble.

The Sketches of Mexico Project is an exciting new collaboration curated by the award winning Mexican guitarist Morgan Szymanski and Sarabande Records involving music, visual arts and educational workshops in venues including concert halls, art galleries and schools.

1. The Music: A magical journey through Mexicos sounds, colours, dances and styles.

20 Mexican Sketches: Julio César Oliva (Mexico, b.1947)

Oliva’s 20 Mexican Sketches were never intended as concert works, but rather as a stylistic and didactic collection for young guitarists to become acquainted with traditional Mexican rhythms and musical forms. However, this simplicity still manages to conjure wonderful images, ambiences, sounds and colours. Mexico’s distinct and varied geography is portrayed in a mixture of pre-hispanic, popular and modern sound worlds, taking the listener on a musical journey through famous and wonderful locations such as Acapulco, Oaxaca, Yucatán, Chiapas, Veracruz. Imagery is present in the music in homage to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the two famous volcanoes – Popocatépetl and Ixtaccíhuatl – the pyramids of Teotihuacan and the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, now embraced by the sprawling capital, Mexico City.

Oliva’s works are complemented by six songs by Manuel María Ponce (1882-1949), Mexico’s foremost composer and father of Mexican nationalism. Throughout his life he collected melodies and themes which are present in his compositions. The selection of popular pieces and songs reflect Ponce’s unending devotion to the guitar and his close relationship with Andres Segovia.

2. Visual Arts: Sketches, design and multimedia.

Artists and designers from Mexico and the United Kingdom have been invited to take part in this unique collaboration. Each artist will provide their own interpretation inspired by the music in the form of sketches, paintings and designs. These images will be used in the following ways, depending on location and venue.

  • a) As part of an exhibition
  • b) In a unique video installation to be projected throughout the performance.
  • c) In post-cards to be sold at concerts.
  • d) On the Sarabande Records website and/or Facebook page.

3. Education:

The education and outreach part of the project is an essential part in order to promote Mexican culture, music and art in schools. Workshops will include a didactic performance of the music, as part of a presentation of the art works. Students will then be invited to create their own sketches.

The project will be presented to promoters and venues in Mexico and the UK for inclusion in programmes during 2012. The launch of the project in Mexico will be in Mexico City’s CENART on the 25th of August 2012.


Morgan will be traveling to China to visit the workshop of the wonderful guitar maker Yulong Guo. Singing Dragon Guitars have invited Morgan to perform on their guitars at the Shenyang Guitar Festival on 27 July 2011 in a unique collaboration in order to promote their wonderful instruments. This is the beginning of a special relationship between player and maker.

Machaca – Los Ambulantes

Morgan Szymanski (Guitar) Sarabande Records – SARACD003

‘Machaca’ is an ensemble of guitar, violin, cello, accordion, percussion, bass, flute and cuatro and is the name of an international ensemble of high-class musicians put together by Mexican-born guitarist Morgan Szymanski in 2006. Los Ambulantes is the second album made under this group name although the personnel for this one differs from the first album with the exception of the cellist and the accordionist. Apart from a work by the Italian guitarist Simone Iannarelli and one from Welsh composer Stephen McNeff, the programme consists of music from South America.

As with their first release, the track listing features many well-known musical works presented in a new manner due to the addition of other instrumentation.  Hence the three celebrated solo guitar pieces by Venezuelan guitarist Antonio Lauro are heard with an up-tempo beat with the guitarist backed by cuatro and percussion and also Celso Machado’s wonderful Bolinhas de Queijo given a cool-jazz interpretation a la ‘MJQ’ style.

Of particular interest is the longest item on the programme, the title track Los Ambulantes here given its world premiere recording. This is a terrific piece written in a contemporary jazz mode and a work which uses the group to their full potential. It is a work of multiple musical layers and density travelling through a variety of moods and holds the attention for its full eleven minutes.

The disc is well recorded and performed with style from a seemingly very enthusiastic ensemble.

Steve Marsh, Classical Guitar Magazine April 2011.

Machaca – Mano a Mano

Morgan Szymanski (Guitar) Sarabande Records – SARACD001

This is subtitled as ‘Chamber Music for Guitar’ and for this Morgan Szymanski is joined by an array of other musicians performing on harpsichord, violin, percussion, accordion and cuatro plus two female vocalists.

The programme falls roughly into two broadly defined camps, one, of works where the composer’s instrumental intentions are more or less followed (ie. the Piazzolla and Ponce compositions) and the second where the music has additional instrumentation added such as in the Lauro Vals Criollo (cuatro/percussion/lyrics) and Brouwer’s Danza Caracterísitica and Canción de Cuna(respectively, percussion and vocal/percussion).
Of special interest is the word-premiere recording of British composer Alec Roth’s four movement composition for guitar and strings where Morgan Szymanski joins forces with the Sacconi Quartet. The Quintet is a lyrical and intense piece with many and varied rhythms: a multiplicity of moods are covered from sombre and morbid ones through to euphoria and exhilaration and with several twists and turns along the way. Altogether this is an excellent new work for the repertoire and hopefully one which will make many appearances on the concert platform.

All the musicians involved in this interesting project give superb performances and the recorded sound is outstanding. The programme is wide-ranging and colourful, interleaving the known with the less well-known. The Roth piece alone makes this such an attractive purchase.

Steve Marsh – Classical Guitar Magazine, April 2011.

After many unforgettable years under the umbrella of YCAT (Young Concert Artist Trust), Morgan Szymanski will now be represented by Laura Tear:

“When Morgan asked me to work for him I was absolutely delighted. Morgan is not just an outstanding young musician but also a fantastic communicator and a joy to work with.

My own career in music began more than a few years ago in Italy, working for ORIA, one of the oldest and most established music agencies in Italy.
If you would like to talk to me about Morgan please do get in contact and I look very much forward to meeting you at some of Morgan’s future concerts?.

Laura Tear Artist Management,
62, Annandale Road
London SE10 0DB

tel+44 (0)20 8293 9911
skype: lauratear

Bob Smissen / Devon / Kenneth Sillito / Morgan Szymanski / Philip R Buttall / Stephen Orton / Totnes

It would be so easy to think that a world-renowned ensemble, touring the same programme around the country, and one which, though absolutely charming, is perhaps not excessively stressful, might occasionally switch into automatic mode.

Not so the strings of St Martin in the Fields. From their body language and interaction, it was so obvious from the very first note, that each player was still really enjoying making music, and the resulting sound, enhanced by the glorious acoustic, was simply breathtaking throughout.

Yes they can command all the best players around, with such immense strengths as violist, Bob Smissen, and the rich fruity tone of cellist, Stephen Orton.

In director, Kenneth Sillito, they could simply find no better, both in his wonderfully expressive playing, and assured, yet so persuasively unassuming leadership.

And, with such eminent crowd pleasers as Grieg’s Holberg Suite, a Villa Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras, the delicious E flat Serenade by Joseph Suk, and Morgan Szymanski’s delicately-crafted reading of Vivaldi’s D major Guitar Concerto, this was always going to be a concert to die for.

But the specially-commissioned Guitar Concerto by Alec Roth eventually stole the show, for here was a brand new contemporary work which was not only perfectly formed, but was such a delight to hear – if only all of today’s so-called composers would show such consideration, and respect for their listeners’ intellect.


New Faces: Morgan Szymanski
A superb classical guitarist who started out playing everything.

By Ivan Hewett
 Published: 1:00PM BST 29 Jul 2010

Who is he?

A superb classical guitarist, just turned 30, who leads his own chamber group, Machaca, and has played everywhere from the Wigmore Hall to Beijing.
With a name like that he must have an interestingly mixed background.
Yes, but not the one you might imagine. His father is Mexican and his mother is Scottish.

Does this show in his music?
The Mexican part certainly does. “A lot of my musical influences are Latin-American. I used to listen to traditional and folk guitar a lot. In Mexico, folk music is still firmly in people’s ears, and it’s also there in the classical music I play by Mexican composers, such as Chavez and Ponce.?

Did he start out as a folk guitarist?
He started out playing everything – pop, folk and classical. “But my mum was very clever. She said I could play my electric guitar only after I had played my classical pieces first. I owe a lot to my mum: she sent me to the National Music School in Mexico.

Who inspired him in those days?
The great Andrés Segovia above all, because “he was the one who really put the guitar on the map. Before him, it hardly existed as a solo instrument. But I also listened a lot to Julian Bream and John Williams. As a kid in Mexico, I never imagined I would one day play duets with John Williams at the Wigmore Hall.?

How did he end up in London?
Through a route that led first to the Edinburgh Music School (“because it had a very good pop course alongside the classical course?) and then to the Royal College of Music in London.

The guitar’s repertoire is pretty limited. Isn’t that a problem?
“The guitar is a young instrument in the classical world, so it’s important for players to get composers interested in writing pieces for us.?

Will he stay in the UK?
“London is a wonderful place musically, but I can’t stand the winters. One day I would like to settle in Mexico.?
Morgan Szymanski tours with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields in September. His new album, ‘Los Ambulantes’, with the ensemble Machaca is on the Sarabande label.