Sunday afternoon I sat in the handsome music room of a serene old Pasadena mansion, beguiled by the soft, silken sounds of David Tanenbaum’s guitar. Out through the picture window I watched as a beautiful small bird — some kind of finch, I think — landed on a branch and joined in with the music. Then I thought to myself: if Mary Ann Bonino could somehow distill and bottle the essence of these Chamber Concerts in Historic Sites — both the music and the ambiance — the result would probably be declared an illegal substance.
They’re that stimulating — these superb entertainments. This, the last in this season’s concert series, took place in the grand old Freeman A. Ford House, one of the Greene Brothers’ great creations, dating back to 1907, surrounding a courtyard full, on this occasion, of good cheese and perfect strawberries. Can anyone still doubt that this is the best of all possible worlds? Or that Bonino has had a hand in making it so?
Tanenbaum, New Yorker by birth and now based in the Bay Area, is one of the brightest of the young guitarists. He has built a distinctive reputation by shying somewhat away from the traditional guitarist’s repertory and cultivating an interest in some of the serious, exploratory works for his limited instrument that a number of composers — among them Peter Maxwell Davies and Hans Werner Henze — are writing today.
He began with four lovely, deceptively simple, short pieces by Lou Harrison, works that explore exotic tunings and influences from Asian sources; these were followed by a group of short, adventurous Etudes by Cuba’s Leo Brouwer. The afternoon’s highlight, however, was a 10-minute sonata by Max Davies, composed in 1984 for Julian Bream: serene, reflective, mystical music that, with the quiet resources of this solo instrument, creates the effect of a vast landscape — extraordinary, powerful music small only in its physical dimensions.
Two Dowland lute pieces,  Bach’s B-flat  Partita — imaginatively transcribed by Tanenbaum from the keyboard original — and a couple of Spanish-style encore pieces ended the varied and agreeable program. The guitar is gaining respect as a concert instrument, largely because players with Tanenbaum’s skill and good sense are encouraging new works. One problem, however, is that these soft, intimate sounds invariably seem lost in large, impersonal concert settings. This  time, thanks to Bonino and her inexhaustible treasure of good thoughts and deeds, the instrument seemed right at home, and so did we all.