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Festival Review: Hamilton International Guitar Festival

Posted By Connie Sheu, Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hamilton International Guitar Festival 2012

by Heather Morand Clark

The second annual Hamilton International Guitar Festival took place in Hamilton Ontario from July 13 to 15, 2012. In only its second year of existence in this industrial city on the shore of Lake Ontario, the Hamilton Festival boasted registrations more than double the number from the previous year. Students ranged in age from teens to seniors, and came from the local area, as well as further away: Ottawa, New Brunswick, Rochester and Cleveland. Director Emma Rush was pleased with attendance at the concerts also, having brought in performers Jorge Caballero, Shawn Pickup, Isaac Bustos, Gohar Vardanyan, Kevin Manderville, and the Laura Young/Frances Pappas duo that call themselves Lagrimosa Belta. 

Jorge Caballero kicked things off with his concert at the MacNab Street Presbyterian Church, a different venue being tried out this year. Last year’s venue, the Hamilton Conservatory, was still the scene of all lessons, lectures, the vendor fair, and the afternoon concerts.

Jorge Caballero’s concert began with a Bach Partita, and continued with five pieces by Isaac Albeniz. After the intermission, only one more piece, but what a long one! Jorge is becoming well known for his performance this past year or so of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition arranged by Kazuhito Yamashita. Yamashita has not performed this in many years, and no other guitarist has attempted it either, until Jorge took it on. This amazing piece of music is a personal favourite, in both orchestral and piano versions, and now too on guitar. Jorge’s phenomenal technique is breathtaking to watch. Listening to the orchestral version again afterwards, with its loud brass and loads of percussion, after having heard it on guitar, one wonders how it is that Jorge was able to convey everything from the original composition without the feeling that there was anything missing! A masterful arrangement and stunning performance!

Halifax guitarist Shawn Pickup, who lived and studied in Germany for a number of years, was featured in the Saturday afternoon concert. He performed music by Nuccio D’Angelo, Franz Schubert, Joaquin Turina, and Alberto Ginastera. The Ginastera Sonata for guitar ends with an energetic finale that pushes both instrument and player to the limit. The percussive nature of it is such that it is amazing that the guitar survives!

Saturday evening’s concert was a double feature, with Isaac Bustos performing in the first half, followed by Gohar Vardanyan of Armenia. Isaac’s programme included selections by Albeniz, two Sonatas by Scarlatti, Rodrigo and Giuliani. Gohar joked that she would not be playing the same selections as Isaac, despite the printing error in the programme stating that she would! She played Introducción y Rondo, Op. 2, No. 2 by Dionisio Aguado, Un Sueño en la Floresta by Barrios, two Spanish pieces by Sainz de la Maza and Albéniz, Invocación y Danza by Joaquín Rodrigo, and Fantasie Hongroise by Mertz.

The next concert, Sunday afternoon, with Kevin Manderville, was the scene of a bit of comedy, as after the first piece, Leo Brouwer’s Canticum, there was a prolonged standing ovation. Kevin joined in the humour, leaving the stage and coming back a couple of times, feigning surprise at such adulation! He eventually continued with Suite in A minor by MM Ponce, Dos piezas Afro-Antillanas, and the Suite del Recuerdos by Jose Luis Merlin.

The final concert of this year’s festival was by the duo of Frances Pappas(voice) and Laura Young(guitar). This wonderful combination was making a return appearance in Hamilton, having performed for the Society in its first year of existence. The appreciative audience was treated to a variety of music by Bach, Kellner and Dowland of the 16th and 17th centuries, through to such contemporary composers as Carlo Domeniconi and Stefan Hakenberg.

Next year's festival, already in the planning stages, will feature, among others, David Leisner, a return appearance by Johannes Moller, along with his wife and duo partner Laura Fraticelli and others, to be determined. The festival next year will also include a competition for the first time. Two preliminary rounds will take place on Friday the 12th and Saturday the 13th, and the finals will be a public concert on the evening of Sunday July 14th. (Festival dates are July 12-14). More information will be available soon on the Guitar Hamilton web site, or by email addressed to Emma Rush at .

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