Christopher Berg, The Pilgrim Forest (Laughing Heart)
When the jaunty, briskly strummed opening chords ring out from an acoustic guitar on “Gorilla Music,” the first track on Christopher Berg’s new CD, it seems at first that the music to follow could be either an unfocused barrage of technique or a Rush-like epic. It doesn’t take long, however, for Berg to demonstrate that his formidable technique will be put to the cause of creative compositions with impressive delivery and emotional depth.
Given the fact that Columbia’s Berg is best known for his guitar and lute performances of Renaissance and classical works, it may surprise some to learn that Berg is also a skilled composer. The Pilgrim Forest is comprised entirely of music for solo guitar and was recorded without benefit of overdubs or other studio enhancements. With a brief story line in accompanying text, the CD lays out the adventures of several characters —Traveler, Pilgrim, Warrior, Emperor and Fool—providing metaphors for life’s experiences as it traverses various musical landscapes. From the “Waltz of the Hermit,” in which a hermit makes peace with his former enemy, to “The Emperor and the Fool,” where the Emperor learns “to know himself through the truths flowing from within,” The Pilgrim Forest is really about searching inward, not physical travel.
On a musical level, the CD shows that Berg is capable of moving beyond his classical foundation into his own uncharted forest of music that is free-flowing, vibrant, expansive and modern —even postmodern. Berg successfully navigates between strands of classical, folk and new age, carefully balancing dollops of dissonance or rhythmic complexity within overarching structures that are melodic and inviting. The result is music that sounds comfortingly familiar but also refreshing.
When, for example, Berg borrows from the “Doxology” (written by Thomas Ken in 1674) at the end of “The Girl Without Arms,” it emerges simply as one new theme among many others, integrating perfectly with Berg’s own music. “Lullaby Blue” sets a properly sleepy tone, with a charming melody that wafts along through development and variations. On “Song ForGiving,” Berg moves between warm, elegantly simple melodic lines and more complex contrapuntal variations. Here, his graceful phrasing, intuitive sense of dynamics and enviable technique all come together with his compositional skill.
Selections from The Pilgrim Forest have already been heard on more than 140 public radio stations on the nationally syndicated “Classical Guitar Alive” show. Locally, the CD is available at the Portfolio Art Gallery in Five Points and the Carol Saunders Gallery in the Vista. DC