Composer Rhys Chatham puts the multi into multi-talented – and everything else he does in life, too.

As a musician, he’s a multi-instrumentalist flitting from wind to strings.

As a composer, he’s written a piece for 100 guitarists.

He’s set to mastermind the live performance of his own production, A Secret Rose for 100 Guitars, at Birmingham Town Hall on Saturday, June 7.

Many of the people in the audience will probably know at least one guitarist on stage at the start of the show and, by the end, they might know 100.

Rhys himself certainly will.

“Having 100 guitarists enables you to get a special sound you can’t get any other way,” he says.

“There’s nothing like 100 people playing quietly and, visually, it’s fantastic.

“We’ll have a general rehearsal for about six hours. Then we’ll split the guitarists into groups of 33/34 each.

“Each will have a section leader, a sub-conductor and the three groups will be subdivided into six.

“There will be three hours of rehearsals in the morning and three in the afternoon both days.

“Then we’ll have the show – five movements and 70 minutes of music.”

Rhys says he wrote A Secret Rose to give guitarists the opportunity of sharing something which other musicians can experience on a much more regular basis.

“As a guitarist, you generally don’t get to work in an orchestra,” he says.

Composer Rhys Chatham
Composer Rhys Chatham
 

“I first started to play in the 70s and then thought in the 80s ‘It’s too bad guitarists don’t get that experience’. But it is really nice working with a large group of other musicians and our guitarists tend to come from many backgrounds, from jazz to rock.

“The main problem is putting the parts together and making sure everyone is then together.”

Rhys is left handed but uses his right hand to strum while playing guitar.

“I wanted to be able to play other people’s guitars,” he smiles.

“I began with clarinet, then my father’s harpsichord and the French horn, before realising that all of the girls were in the flute section so I thought ‘I’m going to play flute’.

“But when you are 18, you can’t play flute in a rock band, Jethro Tull aside.

“So I switched to sax and free jazz in the 70s.

“After a few years of playing guitar I began to worry about losing my hearing. So I switched to a softer instrument – trumpet.

“Trouble is, my neighbours didn’t think it was soft.

“It takes two years just to develop the muscles to play it and I think it takes 10 years to get a certain mastery.

“The other reason I switched to trumpet from guitar is because of Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi.

“I practised and practised and practised and still couldn’t play like he could.

“I just felt I had more talent as a wind player.

“You only have three valves with a trumpet and I could play it three times faster than I could a guitar.

“When you are in your 20s you will try to play a trumpet really fast, but as you get older you just want to make every note count. Less is more.”

Previous performances of Chatham’s guitar orchestra compositions have included musicians from all over the world, including Italy, Ireland, Canada, Argentina, USA and Holland, from ages 13 to 65.

Rhys has never had a big hit, but says he makes his money from touring.

“The way I make money is from doing concerts, so I tour as much as I can.”

Rhys is using Midland musicians Sebastiano Dessanay (bass) and Laurence Hunt (drums) to provide the rhythm at Birmingham Town Hall.

“We’ve been working hard on the music, virtually over the internet with MP3 files and discussions,” he says.

“The real stars will be the guitarists of the band – and this rhythm section who will be the wind behind the fire of the guitar playing.

“I can’t wait for the show because Birmingham has such a great tradition of producing brilliant, fantastic musicians.”

* Midland guitarists are still being invited to take part in the show, which will require extensive rehearsals on Friday and Saturday, June 6 and 7. To be considered, visit: www.birmingham-secret-rose.frontporchproductions.org/