A report on the 2011 Boston GuitarFest

The Boston GuitarFest VI, June 15-19, 2011, was a resounding success with concerts, classes, lectures, and other events delivered with a strong Italian accent and aptly titled Bell’ ItaliaUnder the direction of its inimitable artistic director Eliot Fisk, BGF encompasses a broad vision: high level of performance and pedagogy with representation of early music, new music, virtuoso soloists, chamber music, and an international competition. Guest artists included John Gibbons (harpsichord), Artyom Dervoed (winner of the 2010 BGF competition) Newman-Oltman DuoJude Gold (electric guitar), Virginia Eskin (piano), Maarten StragierAlexander DunnRobert WardMike Frengel (electric guitar), Richard Savino (El Mundo), and Adam Holzman. A sequence of masterclasses was offered by Maestro Oscar Ghiglia. A tour of the Museum of Fine Arts Italian guitars from its fine instrument collection, seminars on Italian opera and baroque performance practice, and a lunch in Boston’s North End rounded out an intense week.

Eliot Fisk and his lovely wife Zaira Meneses labor throughout the year in the myriad tasks required in a festival of such scope.

The Composition Competition drew 120 submissions by 83 composers from 13 different countries. Its judges Apostolos Paraskevas (Berklee), Alexander Dunn (University of Victoria and Victoria Conservatory) and Anthony Paul de Ritis (Northeastern University) awarded a winner and three honorable mentions. The winner was Jonathan Godfrey from Bloomington, Indiana, for his work Sonatina for guitar solo — Blue. Night. Pools. Mr. Godfrey received a cash prize and free registration for the upcoming festival. Three honorable mentions were Ying-Chen Kao from Baltimore, Maryland, for his work, Lilac. Star. Bird.Marek Pasieczny from Zamosc, Poland, for Sequenza, and Luis Nieto Sachica, from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Reminisce. Jonathan Godfrey’s Sonatina will be performed as part of BGF 2012.

Typically, the Adult Performance Competition drew exceptional players from around the world. Two preliminary rounds brought the competitors list down to ten semifinalists consisting of Nemanja OstoichJerome MouffeYou Wang,  Chad IbisonTal HurwitzMatthew James Lyons, Vladimir GorbachEdel MuñozAlexander Milovanov, and Adam Kossler, many of them seasoned competition players. From this group, three finalists were selected: 1st place – Edel Muñoz (Cuba), 2nd place – Jérôme Mouffe (Belgium), 3rd place –Alexander Milovanov (Belarus). There was exceptional playing throughout all rounds of the competition. Memorable performances included Milovanov’s stunning Variations on Bellini s Opera I Capuleti E I Montecchi of Regondi, Mouffe’s Regondi Introduction & Caprice where he exceeded his fine Guitare Montréal performance, and Muñoz’ dazzling Introduction and Rondo Op. 2#3 of Aguado. The BGF Competition, juried by Bruce HolzmanThomas Johnson, and Virginia Eskin, is certainly a gold standard for international level playing and consistently draws major talent.

Christopher Boston plays Regondi in a Ghiglia masterclass

On a personal note, I was delighted to be part of BGF VI, having been involved in some way since its inception. As a student of Oscar Ghiglia for nine summers at the Aspen Music Festival, it was a personal pilgrimage for me to rejoin with his former students Fisk, the Holzmans, Johnson, and Savino – and to perform Giampaolo Bracali’s Viajes (and Anthony de Ritis’ Transparencies for two guitars and electronics with Robert Ward, for years, BGF’s administrative director). Viajes was composed for Ghiglia – I remember experiencing it in Aspen. Being asked to prepare it for this festival was a reminder of those unforgettable days under the tutelage of Maestro Ghiglia whose demanding teaching style and dizzying intellectual and musical presenza remains a cornerstone in the development of so many guitarists.

Some brief notes I took during Ghiglia’s class include:

First class, Thursday. Martin Quatre Pieces – This lesson became a musical/metaphysical/historical manifesto on pitches and their function in the piece. Another played Duarte English Suite, then switched to a Sor study at Ghiglia’s insistence. Legato, control of line and general sustain issues were addressed. Linear thinking was compared to pitch memory and the importance of relating to pitches as memory experienced and as continuity. Ponce Sonata III – intervals in context of harmonic environments. Character and expression through interval hearing and sensitivity to the harmonic weight. Bach Sonata I – stylistic considerations and ‘harpsichord’ style.  Connect important pitches without having rapid figuration detract from important pitches, and to have implied counterpoint and  dialogue meaning deepened by well-connected pitches. Likening harmonic changes to chess game moves, each change provoking the next. Chord changes are likened to chess pieces of various importance, or various events in a lifetime. Christopher Boston performed Regondi Introduction & Caprice and was treated to a typically detailed and demanding session of of structural, pitch-sensitive and poetic considerations. Harmonic tension was related to language stresses and textual meaning. ‘This is Romantic music my friend, you have to grow into the emotions’. Operatic roulades were related to musical drama and tension/release principals. Maestro Ghiglia distilled complicated melodic figures into basic ideas and attached dramatic ideas, all with startling verity and integrity. Time and time again, Ghiglia pronounced amazing ideas with a mixture of profundity, humor and insight -delivered in a combination of hushed communication, intimidating shouting, knowing discourse or encouragement. In musical skills such as clear hearing, on-the-spot changes and demanding musical ideas, Ghiglia has no patience with sloppy thinking or undeveloped musical skills. As a master teacher, his demands raise a students skills and hearing to another plateau, producing surprising and delightful results. Second class, Friday. Physical and musical relaxation should mirror anticipation of musical material. Anchor to the floor, and permit the stroke to emanate from the back, them shoulders, then fingers. Left hand pressure regulated by soft left- hand thumb and left-hand weight should not be compromised. Memory is bound by disconnected muscular memory to connect thoughts floating around. To be grounded is to allow memory to have a continuum of thoughts and ideas. Details need to be bound together by movement. Playing without guitar (mental practice) stimulates musical and tactile memory. Match aesthetic ideas with your hands. In Moussorsky and Villa-Lobos, Ghiglia insisted on perfectly crafted melodies and utter tonal control, often shouting and gesturing in peerless Ghiglia fashion.

Report by Alexander Dunn

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