By Adam Brown
On November 1st and 2nd, the fifth annual Indiana University International Guitar Festival and Competition took place in Bloomington, Indiana. This year’s event brought top-tier competitors from all over the world and also featured concerts and master classes by world renowned artists.
The two-day festival was orchestrated by artistic director Maestro Ernesto Bitetti, and executive director Petar Jankovic, and was made possible by the generous support of Aranjuez strings, the Bloomington Classical Guitar Society, the Indiana University Office of International Affairs, Reverie Classical Guitars, Dr. Souheil Haddad, and Dr. Fadi Haddad.
Maestro Bitetti is the founder and chair of the Indiana University Guitar Department and Mr. Jankovic is a faculty member at the Jacobs School of Music as well. Together their vision, guidance, and love of the guitar have made the competition a growing success that is eagerly anticipated by Bloomington’s musical community.
This year’s notable events included preliminary, semi-final, and final rounds of competition that were free and open to the public, master classes by guest artist Ricardo Gallén and Petar Jankovic, two divisions of youth competition, the premier concert of the Jacobs Guitar Ensemble, and a guest recital by Ricardo Gallén.
The open division showcased the talents of 25 competitors from Bosnia, Taiwan, Poland, China, Canada, Bulgaria, South Korea, Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, Vietnam, Iran, and the United States. After witnessing the caliber of players in the preliminary round, it was clear that the judges would be faced with difficult choices. The judges ended up passing ten competitors into the semi-final round, a much higher number than in the competition’s previous years.
The final round of competition was a spirited display of musicianship that showcased a broad spectrum of repertoire. The first competitor to perform was Miodrag Zerdoner of Bosnia, playing the J.S. Bach Concerto BWV 972 and John W. Duarte’s Variations on a Catalan Folk Song. Zerdoner’s playing was refined and beautifully communicated. Approaching the final round, Zerdoner was considered by many in attendance as being a contender for top prize. Playing second was Mark Edwards of California, performing La Petit Fille aux Allumettes and Les Souliers Rouges by Ian Krouse and Joaquin Turina’s Fantasia Sevillana. Edwards interpretations were clear and sensitively nuanced. His effortless and inspiring rendition of Sevillana made clear that the contest would be narrowly decided indeed. Third to play was Jesus Serrano of Mexico, playing Johann Kasper Mertz’ Fantaisie Hongroise, Sarabanda de Scriabin and Toccata de Pasquini from Leo Brouwer’s Sonata, and Etudes No.11 and 12 by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Serrano captivated the audience with his brilliant musicality and enviable technical prowess. His daring and jubilant Fantasie, and superb command and attention to detail in Brouwer’s Sonata, showcased the scope of his musical versatility. Performing fourth was Celil Refik Kaya of Turkey, playing Mauro Giuliani’s Gran Sonata Eroica, Jorge Morel’s Milonga del Viento, Isaac Albeniz Cataluña, and Joaquin Rodrigo’s Fandango. Kaya’s playing ranged from delicate to dazzling and was underscored by his virtuosic technique. His tasteful and impressive juggling of voices in Cataluña displayed his musical sensitivity as well as his command of the instrument. The final competitor was Jeremy Collins of Ohio. Collins performed J. Rodrigo’s Fandango, Tres Apuntes by Leo Brouwer, and Introduction and Caprice by Guilio Regondi. Collins easily entranced the crowd with his enormous and gorgeous sound. His moving interpretation of the Regondi showed a broad spectrum of emotional diversity within his playing.
After a spirited and contentious period of deliberation, the jury agreed that a shared first prize would be awarded to Jesus Serrano and Celil Refik Kaya. Second prize was awarded to Jeremy Collins, and third prize went to Mark Edwards.
The two divisions of Youth Competition took place on the morning of the festival’s final day. The competitors showed an astounding level of playing and gave the audience a glimpse at their promising futures. In the Junior Youth Division, first prize was awarded to Everest Nguyen, second prize to Jordan Dembsky, third prize to Ian Tubs and Oliver Ehrhardt (ex aequo), and fourth prize went to Benjamin Webb and Noah Ehrhardt (ex aequo). In the Senior Youth Division, first prize was awarded to Filip Optolowicz, second prize to Tim Beattie, third prize to Jeremy Waldrip, and fourth prize to Sedona Farber.
This year’s festival and competition featured master classes given by guest artist Ricardo Gallén and Petar Jankovic. Gallén’s master class featured competitors from the open division receiving instruction on works by J.S. Bach and William Walton. Gallén’s direction focused on the importance of articulation and motivic identification. Petar Jankovic’s master class featured contestants from the Youth Divisions performing works by Mauro Giuliani and Joaquin Rodrigo. Jankovic taught on the subjects ranging from sound production to phrasing.
The first evening of the festival featured the presentation concert of the newly formed Jacobs Guitar Ensemble, under the direction of Daniel Duarte. The ensemble was comprised of graduate and undergraduate students from the Jacobs School of Music Guitar Department. The concert featured Duarte’s own arrangements works by Antonio Vivaldi, Astor Piazzolla, and Paulo Bellinati among others, as well as works by Fernando Sor and Leo Brouwer. The result was an entertaining and diverse array of music stemming from the classical guitar tradition, but also included instruments from the guitar family such as the steel string guitar, bass guitar, cavaquinho, and requinto. The program was also notable in that it did not neglect the guitars tradition as a coloristic and accompaniment instrument. For Panchos Suite, an arrangement of popular Spanish songs, the audience was surprised by three male singers rising from their midst and joining the ensemble on stage for a maudlin and comic performance. The vibrant assortment of sounds and styles was also helped largely by the multi-instrumental talents of ensemble member, Ben Wedeking, who adeptly played guitar, violin, mandolin, and cavaquinho throughout the evening.
The concert on the festival’s final night was given by renowned guitarist, Ricardo Gallén. The classical guitar students and enthusiasts in attendance were expressly excited to hear Gallén give the U.S. premiere of Leo Brouwer’s Sonata No.4, Sonata del Pensador, which Brouwer dedicated to Gallén. In his master class the day previous, Gallén hinted at his ability grasp a work’s depth and density down to the smallest detail. Gallén opened the concert with J.S. Bach’s Suite in G Minor, BWV 995, asserting a virtuosic articulation of every note. In Fernando Sor’s Grand Sonata No. 2 in C Major, Op. 25, Gallén played with an elegance that contrasted nicely with Bach, but was no less mindful in its phrasing. The final work of the evening was the aforementioned Brouwer Sonata, and it did not disappoint. Gallén was able to elicit an incredible palate of sounds that combined with his prodigious artistry and technical capabilities to create a wholly memorable performance.
By all accounts this year’s festival was a resounding success. Artistic director and founder of the Jacobs School of Music guitar program, Maestro Ernesto Bitetti had this to say: "It has been a pleasure to orchestrate and enjoy the extraordinary success of the 5th Indiana International Guitar Festival and Competition that attracted numerous guitarists from 14 different countries, presenting an outstanding level. All together with the debut of the NEWLY formed Indiana University Jacobs Guitar Ensemble directed by Daniel Duarte and the participation of Ricardo Gallén from Spain, who came exclusively for our event, brilliantly performing the U.S premiere of the 4th Sonata del Pensador dedicated to him, rounded up an unforgettable experience”.
As competitors, guests, and attendees met for a reception after the festival’s closing a sense of camaraderie and anticipation for next year’s festival and competition was palpable. "It was a joy to compete in the friendly atmosphere of Indiana University International Guitar Competition sharing my music with excellent judges and hearing their comments, as well as hearing many excellent players and great friends" said Celil Refik Kaya, who shared first prize with Jesus Serrano. The Jacobs School of Music, Maestro Ernesto Bitetti and, Petar Jankovic, with support of Aranjuez strings, the Bloomington Classical Guitar Society, the Indiana University Office of International Affairs, Reverie Classical Guitars, Dr. Souheil Haddad, and Dr. Fadi Haddad have created a celebration of the guitar that has become a tradition in Bloomington for guitarists and music lovers from all over the world to enjoy, connect, and learn.