Matt Palmer has been called one of the world's best classical guitarists, but he can also rock with the heavy metal electric guitar icons and shred with the neoclassicists.
The Fall Branch, Tenn., native's early riffs were inspired by Ozzy Osborne, Slash and the thrashers of Slayer, as he learned his craft with heavy metal bands while attending Sullivan South High School. Palmer threw a Christopher Parkening CD from his mother into the depths of his closet, only to revisit classical guitar as a student of Bill Yelverton at Middle Tennessee State.
With three solo guitar CDs to his credit, Palmer has played Carnegie Hall, received an "Up and Coming Guitarist of the Year" award from Guitar International Magazine and pioneered his own guitar method, The Virtuoso Guitarist, dubbed "revolutionary."
His debut CD, "Un tiempo fue Itálica famosa," has been applauded as "an album of the highest quality" by Guitar International Magazine and prompted Classical Voice of North Carolina to suggest that "Palmer was simply beamed fully formed to Earth on a blue shaft of light and started playing a guitar this way."
Palmer returns to the Tri-Cities to perform with "stunning precision and unwavering accuracy," says Classical Voice of North Carolina, Thursday, March 23, at 7:30 p.m., at First Presbyterian Church, Johnson City, Tennessee.
"One of my favorite memories of a concert when I was in college was a classical guitarist," says Anita DeAngelis, director of event sponsor Mary B. Martin School of the Arts at East Tennessee State University. "It is nice to support someone from the region who has gone on to a significant career. In fact, Matt's sister still lives in Kingsport."
With his varied repertoire and musical roots, Palmer actually tries to avoid the classical guitar designation. "I think when most people hear "classical guitarist' there can be a negative connotation – like it's not cool or it's old and dated," Palmer said in a Premier Guitar interview. "When I was a teenager, I would have never considered listening to classical guitar."
Additionally, Palmer's repertoire is by no means exclusively classical. He commissions, performs and records music by contemporary musicians, such as Dominican composer Rafael Scarfullery and Olga Amelkina of the Ukraine. On his second CD, "Appassionata," Palmer premieres Amelkina's "The Heaven's Hundred," which she "dedicated to Matt Palmer, whose artistry was one of my main inspirations for this work," the composer says. Palmer's 2016 CD is titled after and contains a world premiere recording of Scarfullery's "Sonata Sentimental."
Palmer holds a doctor of musical arts degree from the University of Arizona and is the director of Guitar Studies at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, and coordinates the Eastern Shore Guitar Festival and Workshop.
He also has studied with internationally acclaimed performer and teacher Thomas Patterson and artists-in-residence David Russell, Sergio Assad and Odair Assad, in addition to winning numerous guitar competitions. Palmer performs on a variety of custom guitars built by German luthier Kolya Panhuyzen, known for their range of volume and delicacy of sound.
"Matt Palmer is easily at the forefront of his generation of young American guitarists," says Douglas James, professor of guitar at Appalachian State University. "He has redefined what is technically possible on the instrument, and plays both new and traditional repertoire with musical integrity and complete mastery. His star is surely rising."
"Funny how the top tier is redefined and becomes less crowded," says reviewer Roger Cope, "when a guy like this comes along."
Tickets are $5 for students of all ages with ID, $15 for seniors 60-plus, and $20 for general admission. Group rates are available. To purchase tickets online or for information about ETSU Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, visit www.etsu.edu/martin or call 423-439-8587.
For more information on Palmer, go to www.mattpalmerguitar.com.