One man’s quest to make the electric guitar a classical instrument

Photo - Paul Bielatowicz
Paul Bielatowicz (Photo by Carla Huntington)

By JAY KENNEY

Paul Bielatowicz is best known for his virtuoso guitar work with some of the biggest names in progressive rock. He’s played, recorded and toured with the likes of Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Asia), Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), and Les Paul… to name just a few. Bielatowicz recently finished a three and a half month world tour with The Carl Palmer Band and has been taking a little time off in New Bedford, Mass., to work on his debut solo album Preludes & Etudes.

The concept of the album is simple – to present the electric guitar in its purest form, as a modern classical instrument.

“For as long as I can remember, ever since I was a small child, I’ve had a dream – to play the guitar with the skill and musicality of a classical virtuoso, while maintaining the purity of the instrument’s natural tone,” said  Bielatowicz. “I’ve done everything I can to make Preludes & Etudes the realization of that dream.”

The album is a collection of classical showpieces played almost exactly as the composers intended, but with one small difference – an electric guitar takes the place of violin, piano or whatever the original solo instrument might have been. The content ranges from breathtakingly virtuosic with some of classical music’s most challenging repertoire, to hauntingly beautiful with lyrical pieces such as Debussy’s “Clair de lune” – all played as you’ve never heard them before. 

Much of the album’s music was considered by many to be impossible on the guitar – pieces such as Chopin’s notorious “Op.10 Etudes,” which are a challenge for even the most consummate concert pianist, never mind a guitarist; Paganini’s infamous “5th Caprice,” Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” J.S. Bach’s “Toccata & Fugue in D Minor,” the third movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”…these are just few of the 19 pieces that make this perhaps one of the most virtuosic guitar albums you’ll ever come across.

Preludes & Etudes is the result of three years’ blood, sweat and the occasional tear.

“I spent a month or so working on each piece – painstakingly arranging it and then practicing it until my fingers were raw,” said Bielatowicz. “To be honest, there were quite a few moments where I thought a number of pieces were just going to be impossible on guitar.” 

While studying at a music college, Bielatowicz set himself a strict 10-hour per day practice routine, a schedule he would return to during the making of this album.

“There were periods in most months when I’d lock myself away for entire weeks at a time – that was the only way I was ever going to manage to get this material under my fingers, to a standard where it as ready to perform and record,” he said. “I wanted to present the electric guitar as a serious classical instrument, in my opinion that’s never really been done before.”  

“I approached the recording process in the same way a classical musician would – trying to get the purest tone from my instrument and capturing each performance so that the listener feels like they’re right there in the room with me,” he continued. “What you hear is just a guitar, a cable and an old valve amp. No microchips, distortion pedals or effects were allowed anywhere near the album and I used as little gain on the amp as possible to maintain the purity of the guitar’s natural tone, giving the listener as honest a performance as possible. Preludes & Etudes is all about the playing and the natural tone of the instrument.  It’s is a celebration of the electric guitar in its purest form, and an attempt to raise its perception to that of a classical instrument.”

Although the majority of the album is a solo effort, with Bielatowicz being credited with all the accompanying orchestral arrangements and piano parts, he did call upon a couple of very talented friends to make contributions.  Fellow Carl Palmer Band member Simon Fitzpatrick makes an appearance on four tracks, his virtuoso solo bass accompaniments complimenting Bielatowicz’s guitar parts so perfectly that there are points where it’s difficult to say which instrument is taking the lead. Moreover, the album has been mixed and mastered by Rich Mouser – a household name in progressive rock circles. His decades of studio experience and love of traditional analogue equipment have been put to great use in producing crystal clear mixes that allow the music to breath, putting the listener right at the center of the performance.

Bielatowicz decided not to work with a record company for this album, opting instead to produce and fund it himself.

“The music industry is going through a very exciting transition at the moment,” he said. “The demise of the major label system has given smaller independent artists much more freedom and the chance to make a career for themselves. The result is a massive variety of fresh, original and exciting music.”

To help fund production and manufacturing costs, Bielatowicz is launching a pre-sale campaign, offering supporters incentives such as signed copies of the album, limited edition merchandise items, signature guitar picks and even the opportunity to have their names listed in the credits as “Executive Producer”.  To make a donation, visit http://igg.me/at/paulbielatowicz.

For more details about Bielatowicz and his Preludes & Etudes album, visit http://www.paulbielatowicz.com.

This story was taken from the summer 2013 issue of Limelight Magazine).

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