Festival Reviews

Review of the 2010 UofL Guitar Festival by Christopher Davis

I had the opportunity to attend the U of L Guitar Festival/Competition in Late May 2010. Dr. Stephen Mattingly, the festival’s director, put together a great weekend with just the right blend of concerts, masterclasses, and lectures.

The Tantalus Quartet opened the festival Friday night. Tantalus focuses on playing music by living composers; the program opened with Domeniconi and continued with Houghton and Dyens. The second half of the concert featured works by composers with whom the quartet worked with closely. One piece, Above the Green Night, written by Edie Hill was particularly interesting. Apostolos Paraskevas’ A Feast for Tantalus closed the concert in an intense flury. The piece was written specifically for the Tantalus Quartet, and was the perfect closer. The playing was top notch. I also appreciated the guys talking a bit about each piece over the corse of the program. All the guys in the quartet are very passionate about what they do, an attitude that comes through in their performance.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Each day of the festival opened with a “Technique and Finger Arobics” class given by Dr. Mattingly. Unfortunately, I had warming up to do for the competition preliminary round, so I did not attend. After playing for the competition, I went to “Stress Reduction and Relaxation Techniques for Performing Musicians”, a talk given by Jessica Bonatakis-Mattingly. Jessica is a Psy.D. candidate, and talked about some symptoms of burn out/stress while offering suggestions on how to deal with the emotional, behavioral, and physical effects of both. Before the clinic closed, she walked us through a relaxation technique very similar to meditation. It was a great lecture, but the relaxation technique was the highlight. Too bad she didn’t do it before the competition!

Kristian Anderson and Dr. Mattingly both did masterclasses in the afternoon, and there were two concerts that evening. The first was a split recital with two very disparate performers. The first, David Walker, performed Robert de Visée’s music on Baroque Guitar. I haven’t had the opportunity to hear a period instrument performance before so it was a good experience. After intermission, Dieter Hennings performed a 25 minute work titled Partita by mexican composer Juan Trigos. Frankly, the piece was great: interesting harmonies and well-developed ideas. The piece is in five movements and the composer clearly has a great sense of pacing to keep audiences interested. Dieter displayed impressive musicianship and technique while performing this difficult work.

Jason Vieaux performed that night. Jason is one of the most dynamic players I’ve heard, and every phrase was shaped. His program opened with Albéniz's Sevilla, then Bach's third Lute Suite followed by two Barrios pieces. After intermission Jason continued with Quatre Pieces Breves by Martin and El Decameron Negro. He closed the concert with The Bat by Pat Metheny. Continuing the jazz theme, one of Jason's encores was an arrangement of a Duke Ellington tune. Most of us have heard Jason on recording or Youtube, but neither medium does him justice. Jason has a stage presence and ability that is matched by few musicians; the audience hung on to every note.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Day three began with a masterclass given by Jason Vieaux. Some take away points: respect the score, practice with music (even when it’s memorized), dynamic levels should take pieces as a whole into account (across multiple movements), when playing louder the right hand knuckles should be less perpendicular to the strings.

Michael Fogler gave a lecture that afternoon on practicing. While he doesn’t break a lot of new ground, his tips are the best tibits of knowledge he’s acquired over thirty years of practicing and performing. While some of the tips were elementary, it's easy to forget those simple aspects of learning music. The lecture was a great refresher and reminder. David Walker also gave a lecture on Baroque Ornamentation that afternoon, but I was unable to attend due to an interview with the Tantalus Quartet.

The 4pm concert was the competition finals, and the final concert of the weekend was William Yelverton, the guitar professor from Middle Tennessee State University. Yelverton presented an extremely varied program. He opened with some spanish dances, followed by Dowland (played on a lute). Rameau, played on alto guitar, closed the first half. The alto guitar's higher tessitura and clear timbre made it a very special treat, and well worth experiences. After intermission Yelverton performed pieces inspired by the blues, then some Rodrigo and Gismonti. Dr. Yelverton is an able performer who rose to the challenge of presenting the varied, multi-instrument program he performed.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The festival had a "soft ending" according to Dr. Mattingly. Professional performances done, the only things remaining on the final day were performances by the Youth Guitar Orchestra and the festival participants. The festival faculty also got together for a round table discussion and Q & A session.

The festival was a great experience overall. The schedule was busy, but allowed time enough for the festival participants, faculty, and artists to interact. The high level of performances and educational sessions at the first University of Louisville Festival shows that next years will be even better. I'm looking forward to going back.

-Christopher Davis