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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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