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VIII Encuentro Internacional de Guitarra, Xalapa 2013.

Posted By Connie Sheu, Tuesday, December 17, 2013

By Randall Kohl 

Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico has long been recognized within the country of Mexico as a center for the creative arts, in particular music and especially guitar performance. This past August, 2013, the city continued this tradition by hosting its 8th International Guitar Meeting and 6th National Guitar Competition with the support of the Universidad Veracruzana, the Instituto Superior de Música of Veracruz and two national arts councils, the FONCA (Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes) and CONACULTA (Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes).

Despite Tropical Storm Fernand’s best attempts to cause havoc, only the first day’s talks and concerts were postponed and, after some minor adjustments to the original schedule, the rest of the week went by quickly and smoothly. In all, 17 different events were programmed which included research papers, master classes, CD presentations, concerts and the two-round competition. Particularly noteworthy were the concerts and master classes given by Eliot Fisk, Bill Kanengiser and Judicaël Perroy, all grand master performers and instructors who need no introduction to readers of this publication. We can also include in this category, Matanya Ophée whose talks on Domingo Prat’s work and the lascivious origins of the tango were particularly well received.

In addition to the world-renowned participants, the organizers of this event have also made a point of promoting local and national talents and this year was no exception. They included Daniel Guzmán, luthier at the National Instutute of Anthropology and History (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia) in Mexico City; David F. Mozqueda, originally from Guadalajara, Jalisco and alumnus of the guitar program at the University of Southern California; Mexico City’s Juan Carlos Laguna, instructor for the National School of Music at the Autonomous University of Mexico City (Universidad Autónoma de México) and recording artist for Urtext Digital Classics; Rodrigo Neftalí, also from Mexico City and third place winner of the 2007 "José Tomás” International Guitar Competition in Petrer, Spain; Álvaro Hernández, alumnus of the Universidad Veracruzana’s undergraduate program in guitar and the Universidad de Extremadura’s (Spain) master’s program; and Carlos Alberto Viramontes of Coahuila, Mexico, who studied guitar at the Autonomous University of Coahuila (Universidad Autónoma de Coahuila) and took first place at last year’s installment of National Guitar Competition in Xalapa. Special mention, in this category, must be given to Juan Helguera, composer, guitarist and researcher from Mérida, Yucatán, whose contributions during the second half of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st via publications, radio and television were on grand display and to whom this year’s gathering was dedicated.

We should also note the participation of the Italian musician, composer and painter Marco de Biasi who, in addition to performing his own original works for the guitar, gave a talk on his theories of color and music based on the works of Kandinsky and writings by Klee. Also noteworthy was the presentation of the CD Mictlán by the Universidad Veracruzana’s Cutberto Córdova with works for guitar by this local composer. A particularly moving moment was the in memoriam presentation of the recently deceased Mexican music researcher and guitarist Corazón Otero’s life and work.

Of the 15 contestants participating in the Young Performers’ competition, the winners and their respective prize money (in Mexican pesos) were: Jesús Serrano Huitrón, age 21, from Mexico City, first place ($25,000); Juan Pedro Villegas Bernabé, 24 –years-old, also from Mexico City ($15,000); and Bernardino Rodríguez Espejo, 23 years, from Xalapa, Veracruz ($10,000). More information on this past Encuentro and Concurso can be found at the following links:,

The next Encuentro with concurrent competition is scheduled for April 18 to 24, 2015. Details will be made available through the Universidad Veracruzana’s music and arts web site.

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Indiana University International Guitar Festival and Competition

Posted By Connie Sheu, Monday, November 18, 2013

On October 26th and 27th, the fourth annual Indiana University International Guitar Festival and Competition took place in Bloomington, Indiana. Despite the Festival’s relatively young age, it is fast becoming one of the premier competitions in North America. "…It was once again a joy to participate! I have now been to several others, and I can say with confidence that yours in Bloomington is by far my favorite”, wrote a past prize winner. The competition and festival routinely attracts top-tier competitors from all over the world and features concerts and master classes by well established 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, and Reverie Classical Guitars.

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 and guidance have made the competition a growing success that shows no signs of dissipating.

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 Luis Orlandini and Petar Jankovic, two divisions of youth competition and guest recitals by Matt Palmer and Luis Orlandini.

The open division displayed the talents of 16 competitors from a variety of countries including the United States, Canada, Mexico, China, South Korea, Vietnam, and Bulgaria. After a particularly strong semi-final round, four finalists were named by the Jury--Ye Eun Lee of South Korea, Bin Hu of China, Misael Barraza Diaz of Mexico, and Jeremy Collins of the United States.

The final round of competition was a dazzling showing of guitar repertoire benchmarks. The first competitor to perform was Ye Eun Lee, who impressed the Jury in the semi-final round with an enviable tremolo technique. For the finals Lee performed Fantaisie Hongroise by Johann Kaspar Mertz, Alborada by Francisco Tárrega, En Los Trigales by Joaquín Rodrigo and Manuel Ponce’s Sonata Romántica. Lee’s playing was elegant and articulate; effectively communicating her musical gestures and emotional sentiments with poise, confidence, and control. Playing second was Bin Hu, performing Lob der Thränen by Franz Schubert and arranged by Johann Kaspar Mertz, and Tres Piezas Españolas by Joaquín Rodrigo. Hu played with a commanding technique and stoicism, captivating the audience with his pensive interpretations. Hu managed to convey a meditative aura underscored with shades and hints of tastefully applied power and delicacy. Following Hu was Misael Barraza Diaz performing Sonata for Guitar by Alberto Ginastera and Variaciones sobre un Tema de Sor by Miguel Llobet. Diaz played with an emotional palette and infectious conviction that coaxed the audience into a state of empathy with his musical statements, as well a state of awe at his technical prowess. The genuine sentiment that Diaz plays with marks him as a great communicator and is punctuated by his formidable control of the instrument. The final competitor to perform was Jeremy Collins. Collins elected to play Fandango from Tres Piezas Españolas by Joaquín Rodrigo, Elegy by Alan Rawsthorne, and Introduction and Caprice by Giulio Regondi. Collins immediately controlled the audience’s attention with his enormous and beautiful sound. The pristine clarity, polished technique, and gorgeous sound with which he plays make him at once a moving and highly entertaining artist with an undoubtedly great career ahead of him.

After a period of painstaking and thorough consideration, the Jury named Misael Barraza Diaz as first prize winner ($1700). Second prize went to Jeremy Collins ($700), third prize was awarded to Bin Hu ($500) and fourth to Ye Eun Lee ($300). Diaz was clearly happy with the results and the overall experience. "The experience at the festival was great. Bloomington is a very special place, and I think having a guitar festival there was a great idea. The festival itself was also nice. Lots of great guitarists and artists were there and I think everybody got to meet new people and make new friends throughout it", said Diaz.

The two divisions of Youth Competition took place on the morning of the festival’s final day. The competitors showed an extraordinary level of playing and gave the audience a glimpse at their promising futures. In the Junior Youth Division, first prize was awarded to Kairey Wang, second to Jacob Tan, third to Yian Wang and fourth to Constantin Chekardzhikov. In the Senior Youth Division, first prize was won by Augustus Woodrow-Tomizuka ($500), second went to Erica Cha ($300), third went to Veronica Eres ($200) and fourth went to Clara McLain ($100).

Several of the Youth competitors collaborated with students of Indiana University’s pre-college guitar program to form the Guitar Festival Youth Ensemble. Directed by Atanas Tzvetkov, the ensemble performed works by Vito Nicola Paradiso and Gerardo Matos Rodríguez prior to the concert given by Matt Palmer.

This year, master classes were given by guest artist Luis Orlandini and Petar Jankovic. Orlandini’s master class featured competitors from the open division receiving instruction on works by Giulio Regondi, Joaquín Rodrigo, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Frank Martin. Orlandini’s direction focused on differentiating musical ideas and emphasizing gestures that are implicit in the music. Petar Jankovic’s master class featured contestants from the Senior Youth Division performing works by Heitor Villa-Lobos and Paolo Bellinati. Jankovic’s instruction emphasized the importance of recognizing cello-imitative lines in the Villa-Lobos works, discerning a composer’s intentions in their music, and quality sound production.

Matt Palmer’s recital on the first night of the festival was undoubtedly one of the weekend’s highlights. Palmer’s reputation for possessing astounding technical capabilities added to the anticipation of his performance and he convincingly delivered. Guitar students in the audience left the concert shaken by Palmer’s playing and were quickly clamoring to purchase Palmer’s book on guitar technique, The Virtuoso Guitarist. However, to merely label Palmer as a guitar technique powerhouse would be remiss. Matt Palmer is an artist of the highest degree. Palmer is one of those exceptional players who embody a meeting of artistic depth and physical capability that inform and compound one another. Palmer’s musical selections included standard setting renditions of works by Rodrigo and Ponce, a wholly unique and hypnotic performance of J.S. Bach’s Ciaccona from Partita in D Minor, BWV 1004, and concluded with the fireworks of Štěpán Rak’s Sonata Mongoliana. Palmer also served as a member of the competition’s jury.

The Festival’s closing concert was given by guitarist Luis Orlandini. Orlandini’s program was comprised of selections of Spanish and Latin American works. Opening the concert was Federico Moreno Tórroba’s Piezas Características, which Orlandini performed with a regal grace and sensitivity. The most moving and memorable moment of the evening came about as Orlandini presented a stirring performance of Esquinas, Op. 68 by Chilean composer Juan Orrego Salas. Mr. Salas was present at the concert and was clearly touched by Orlandini’s interpretation. The concert was concluded with a performance of Antonio José’s Sonata, with an entertainingly vigorous final movement.

By all accounts this year’s festival was a success. "This year the Festival and Competition have been extremely successful due to a high level of competition in all categories, the increasing number of participants from foreign countries, and distinguished guests offering recitals and Master classes" said Artistic Director Maestro Ernesto Bitetti. Guest artists and competitors alike agreed. "It was a great festival. I learned a lot. I'll try to send some of my students next year if possible!”, wrote second prize winner Jeremy Collins. Matt Palmer wrote, "…I was honored to have been a part of it.”

As competitors and guests gathered for a reception after the announcement of the prize winners and the festival’s closing, the sense of anticipation for next year’s festival was palpable. 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, and Reverie Classical Guitars have created a celebration of the guitar that will hopefully become a lasting tradition in Bloomington, for guitarists and music lovers from all over the world.

Written by Adam Brown

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Montreal International Classical Guitar Festival and Competition

Posted By Connie Sheu, Tuesday, September 17, 2013

By Ann Ireland 

The hallways of the music building at Concordia University are oddly hushed this morning. Young men perch on the edge of tables, guitars on lap, tuning up or running through a piece that they are soon to play. The tension is low-key, but palpable.

The first round of Montreal’s International Classical Guitar Festival and Competition has already begun. One of the contestants is already inside the studio, playing in front of judges Jeffrey McFadden and Patrick Kearney .

Tomorrow I will appear in an on-stage interview with Jonah Snyder ( to discuss my novel The Blue Guitar. Is it a coincidence that my novel takes place at a classical guitar competition in Montreal? Not really; I attended the G.F.A. here in 2004 and made copious notes.

A door opens, and a young man scurries out of the studio with his guitar, his face pink. Another enters, hoping to play well enough to make the semi-finals. A friend from Toronto is competing in this first round; he’s only been taking lessons for a couple of years – so this is a big deal for him.

I am staying in a house with noted Scottish guitarist, Matthew McAllister. Yesterday we hiked alongside the canal discussing music and Scottish politics, my ear tilted to his Sean Connery accent. This evening, at the concert hall, Matthew plays soulful Scottish lute pieces that he’s transcribed for guitar. When he finishes, the crowd surges towards the merch table.

The amateur guitar orchestra members file on stage, dressed in black. They peer earnestly at their music stands, bi-focals in place, as the conductor, Dave Pilon, lifts his baton. The audience is jammed with relatives and friends who wave to their pals in the orchestra between pieces. This looks like major fun.

At intermission, Patrick Kearney announces the names of those who made it to the semi-final round. My friend’s name is called. I hope I don’t embarrass him by my noisy ‘Yip Yip!’

Back at the house the guest artists are bagged from a day’s work judging and performing and are keen to rehydrate with a drink or two. Soon the stories start to flow, mishaps of international guitarists, scandals, horror stories.... It occurs to me that hanging out with musicians is way more fun than partying with writers.

The semi-finalists enter one at a time and play for ten minutes – and Patrick Kearney is strict about this. In the middle of a soul-baring Adagio – tough luck, pal; you should have timed it better. Nerves are poorly concealed: hands swipe knees, then brush back hair. A smile is more like a grimace.

Matthew has a two-hour Master Class directly afterword judging the round, and when I reach him to ask – ‘You going to join us for dinner?” – he’s glassy-eyed.

‘I’m totally fried,’ he says. ‘Can’t eat. Can’t talk.’

So Jeffrey, Patrick and I hit the St- Hubert chicken joint, a must-visit for anyone coming to la Belle Province. We hoover up moist chicken, beer and bloody Caesars.

My friend didn’t make it past the semi-finals, but he’s happy to have gotten as far as he did.

Last day: After recitals and master classes and the on-stage interview with me, it is time for the the presentation of awards for the youth competition.Tim Beattie pulls off the win. A raffle is held for a brand new guitar and the kid who’d played Bach’s First Cello Suite snags the winning ticket.

Five adult finalists will now perform half hour recitals, the crescendo of the weekend. The audience has bulked up with guitarists who didn’t make it to the final round. One sits forward, elbows on knees. Another nods as a performer nails a tough passage. Another looks sleepy, maybe hung over.

Joseph Palmer’s low ‘e’ string breaks mid-stream: a loud ‘ping’ followed by a hush. He disappears into the hallway to fashion the string change. Within five minutes he’s back to continue his program. He comes in second overall. Nice recovery.

I try to figure out who will win, but I’m stymied. One performer excels in musicality, another flies by the seat of his pants and nails what seems, to this amateur player, an impossibly fast section.

The winner is Misael Barraza, Mexican. Second is Joseph Palmer from Texas. Third is Brent Crawford from Toronto.

Patrick and his team act like they’ve been released from a cruise ship stuck at sea. We head out for Chinese food, giddy with achievement.

‘What about next year, Patrick?’

‘It will be magnificent. Adam Holzman’s coming. And we have a snazzy new venue for the concerts. We’ll showcase composer Denis Gougeon –”

‘And so much more?’

‘You got it.’

If you want to hear/see an edited version of my on-stage interview with Jonah Snyder of – here’s the link:

About the Author:

Ann Ireland is a prize winning novelist, former president of PEN Canada, and coordinator of the Writing Workshops department at the Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University, Toronto. Her most recent novel is: THE BLUE GUITAR published by Dundurn Press.

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