January 21, 2004

Concert commemorates George Harrison's music

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Boomer Beatles fans who liked "the quiet one" best can recall what made him so special all those years ago at a commemorative concert set for 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 2, in Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Shryock Auditorium.

Giving new meaning to the term "classic rock," the concert will feature a selection of George Harrison's songs played by a classical guitarist and a string quartet.

"George was a lover of classical guitar to begin with -- he deeply admired Andrés Segovia (the father of modern classical guitar)," said SIUC music professor Joseph Breznikar, who arranged and will play the pieces.

Louise Harrison, George Harrison's sister, also will appear, reading the lyrics to Breznikar's arrangement of "Within You, Without You," first released in 1978 on the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album.

The concert takes place nearly 40 years to the night from the February evening that the Fab Four first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show and forever changed American music.

"We didn't plan it that way, but it seems like a neat time to offer it," said Breznikar, who vividly remembers watching the show in his living room with his parents and younger sister.

Harrison fans will find a medley of styles in the SIUC concert.

"It's a pretty good cross-section of music from when George was a Beatle and music he wrote afterwards, including some that are not so familiar," Breznikar said.

"It's a chance to appreciate the beauty of some of the songs that aren't so well known."

Most of the concert selections also appear on Breznikar's newly released compact disc, "George Harrison Remembered: A Touch of Class."

It was Louise Harrison's idea to put that CD together, Breznikar said.

"George was already quite sick, and she thought it would be something to cheer him up," Breznikar said. "We both thought he would be really surprised to hear his music on the classical guitar."

When George Harrison died a few months later, it became a tribute piece instead.

"I've always admired George so much," Breznikar said. "He introduced our generation to a way of playing the guitar that was new and different.

"The (CD) name is a play on words -- class, classical guitar. But it's also because he truly was a touch of class in the world of popular culture."

Recorded in Nashville, Tenn., the CD's 12 arrangements include "Something," "Here Comes the Sun," "Tax Man," "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" and Harrison's tribute to John Lennon, "All Those Years Ago."

Transforming rollicking rock 'n' roll into classy classical proved a greater challenge than Breznikar expected.

"You're trying to recreate all the parts -- the melody, the harmony, bass lines, background instrumentation and vocals -- and somehow you have to make this a single entity," he said.

"But I'm very pleased with the final result. I think we've got a beautiful sound."

The concert will feature the selections on the CD and three additional songs Breznikar arranged for guitar and the string quartet led by SIUC colleagues Michael Barta and Eric Lenz.

"We'll play 'My Sweet Lord,' 'Piggies,' which included a string quartet when it was recorded for 'The White Album,' and a medley of brief movements of Beatles tunes that feature George's solo guitar playing," Breznikar said.

"I think it will be fun for people to try to figure out which is which as we play them."

Expanding cultural outreach efforts is among the goals of Southern at 150, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it reaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.

For those who can't make the concert, Breznikar's CD will be on sale soon at local outlets and on his Web site,www.breznikar.com.