Mendle’s ax cuts chords with 11 strings |

Mendle’s ax cuts chords with 11 strings

L.J. Bottjer

Jon Mendle brings his passion to the Mark Twain Cultural Center Saturday, May 21.

Music of the 18th and 19th centuries will be performed with an 11-string archguitar, enthusiasm and talent.

While some shade classical music with notes of elitism Mendle, who has played with Yo Yo Ma, assures he is serious about his craft, but not of himself. He confesses to mixing bad jokes and information on the pieces during his performances.

Such actions, he said encourages post performance conversations.

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Still in his 20s, he is among the fortunate people who discovered his muse early in life. Typical of many budding preteen and teenage musicians it was rock ‘n’ roll he wanted to play at age 12 when he received his first electric guitar.

He was handed a classical guitar three years later. The six-stringed instrument, renowned for its ability to allow the player to perform complex compositions similar to a piano, sparked his interest immediately.

“I hit the ground running,” he said.

As his contemporaries continued playing modern music, Mendel discovered his new-found classical interests had been shared by many rock musician, including heavy metal guitarist Randy Rhoads.

It never struck him as odd to be a devotee of composers like Johann Sebastian Bach, Debussy and Ravel at a young age

“I like being into things other people are not into,” he said.

Attending the San Francisco Conservatory was the natural choice for this Fairfield native. Once there his expanding talent ran headlong into Lady Luck.

At age 19, through the illness of another, he received an honor millions of musicians, as the old joke says, practice, practice and practice to obtain. He performed at New York’s legendary Carnegie Hall. He picked Bach’s Toccata in C Minor to open the concert.

“An element of the experience was surreal,” he said. “I was also very nervous, thinking this was the most important performance of my life and I was playing the most difficult piece.”

Difficult, in part, because Bach’s Baroque work was originally written for fast moving fingers across an organ’s keyboard not the fret of a guitar.

Four years ago he was introduced to an archguitar made in 1982. Mendle said although it is not historically accurate it is a hybrid for its ability to cover large amounts of music. It offers the player the chance to pick out notes from both a classical guitar and that of a lute.

With the archguitar he toured last summer with famed cellist Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. For over a decade the Ensemble, like the multi-national thoroughfare from where takes its name, from has brought together artists from around the world.

The tour began at Tanglewood, summer home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and continued throughout the East.

Mendel’s performance brought a new archguitar commission to the San Francisco craftsman, Alan Perlman, who had made is and created more devotees of its’ unique sounds.

Saturday’s night performance allows Tahoans to join the fan club, too.

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