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Symposium 2001 - Finest and most educational festivals

By Evan Drummond, Rochester, N.Y.

The International Guitar Symposium in Iserlohn, Germany, is one of the finest summer festivals offered. It takes place annually (usually in August) outside Duessledorf at the Evangelische Akademie Iserlohn. The Iserlohn Guitar Symposium began ten years ago when Thomas Kirchhoff and Ulrich Stracke sought to create a centralized meeting place for guitarists around the world. Since its beginning, Mr. Kirchhoff has been able to bring in not only a large student body but some of today's greatest performers such as David Russell, Maneuel Barreco, Eliot Fisk, Norbert Kraft, The Assads, Roland Dyens, Hubert Kappel, Raphella Smits, Laura Young, Dale Kavanagh, Zoran Ducic, Stephen Robinson, and many more. This year alone there were 195 participants representing 38 different countries (including 8 students from Korea, 4 from Japan, 3 from Argentina, 4 from Mexoco, 17 from Canada and the States and all over Europe from Sweden to Greece) at the Iserlohn Guitar Symposium. Overall, the festival was very well-planned and meaningfully structured. Yet, the general atmosphere was one of mutual respect and cooperation with many an opportunity for both participants and mentors to engage in frequent exchanges less formalized. For example, each night the faculty would mingle with the participants over a few beers, and really made the effort to get to know everyone. The Iserlohn festival offers the opportunity to spend time and make friends with people from all over the world that otherwise may not have had such an opportunity to interact.

Along with an amazing opportunity to learn from such a large faculty, related points of interests were provided. Dale Kavanagh led the morning technique class "Finger Aerobics" where a large group of students would assemble every morning and go through ascending and descending slurs, scales, finger independence and stretching exercises. Along with this class were exhibitions that the participants were urged to take advantage of. The exhibitors ranged from European luthiers (22 in total) to sheet-music retailers. There was even an exhibit featuring 4,500 (!) classical guitar CD's, LP's and cassettes available for the participants to listen to.

Featured performers such as Eliot Fisk brought his virtuosity, energy and insight to the event. Gerald Garcia focused on affecting an understanding that allowed students the ability to comfortably reach their "next level" - very often enhanced with his amazing sense-of-humor. Although Stephen Gordon (England) has only recently started to learn the Theorbo, he possesses his unique style and ability on all genres of music. In a more holistic approach, Dale Kavanagh had her students evaluate the music in its entirety for a greater understanding. Paul O'Dette placed special emphasis on elements of style and performance practice. Stephen Thachuk (Canada) brought to his lessons an individualized and refreshing interpretation of music. Alvaro Pierri (Uruguay) was very expressive and clear in what he wanted from his students, and obtained what he was looking for through use of visual images. Frank Gerstmeier (Germany) showed his students that "knowing your instrument" can improve your musicality. Ulrich Stracke focuses more on helping the less experienced students to succeed -- which is why he is so often requested by students year-after-year.

The British Eden-Stell Guitar Duo, although they instructed separately, were both incredibly educated, and demonstrated a wealth of useful knowledge while at the same time were also very entertaining to the audience. Marco Socias (Spain) showed an enormous understanding of different cultures which became an extremely insightful and helpful tool in his teaching. Tom Johnson innovated and taught a "new practice approach" which compartmentalized pieces into what he called "micro-phrases." Eli Kassner(Canada- founder of the Toronto festival in 1975), although steeped in the ways of Segovia, offered his students a virtual insight into the ways of generations past. In total there were more than 500 (!) lessons given during the week.

Along with this level of teaching at this Iserlohn, Germany, International Guitar Symposium, there were memorable concerts nightly. The concerts were held at a beautiful church within walking distance from the campus. The concerts were highly attended not only by the Symposium participants but also by large audiences of local people. The concerts started out with a bang! On Monday, Eliot Fisk played in apacked auditorium with an unsurpassed display of technical ability and energy. On Tuesday, Duo Gaquere-Sungho shared a concert with the Amsterdam Guitar Trio. Wednesday, Marco Socias gave the audience a fabulously beautiful presentation of his musicianship with works by Rodrigo and Domeniconi, which was followed by Paul O'Dette charming the entire hall by walking from the side entrance playing his Lute while weaving throughout the audience.

The afternoon of Thursday, Carsten Groendahl played a concert of Baroque music on his 11-string guitar. That evening, two of Professor Chens' students from China proceeded to show the technical artistry of two 17-year-old young ladies. Friday also proved to be a day that was not to be missed. Alvaro Pierri showed the audience a "guided tour of his soul" with masterful technique as well as musicianship. And yet, Saturday was the fun day! The participants were given the chance to demonstrate all the new concepts they had learned in an impressive recital that contained solo and guitar orchestral performances. The first guitar orchestra was conducted by Stephen Gordon playing a transcription of "Brittens: Simple Symphony" and the second by Gerald Garcia performing his own composition -- both of which proved to be a colossal success and a noteworthy finale to the Symposium.

In my opinion, this was one of the finest and most educational festivals that I have ever had the pleasure to participate in. There has not been a better mix of music and happiness that resulted in such an impact on so many people's "playing" abilities. I fully recommend this festival to anyone looking to experience not only "guitar" but "life". If that is not enough, next year's line-up (25th of August - 1st of September 2002) consists of several great artists such as Leo Brouwer and in concerts and teaching David Russell, Costas Cotsiolis, Eduardo Isaac, Thomas Mller-Pering, Dale Kavanagh, the Nexus Quartet and many more. To find more information on this festival, e-mail the director, Thomas Kirchhoff, at info@amadeusduo.de.

Thomas Kirchhoff was more than helpful from the start; he even found a place for me and many other students to stay when we arrived early. So, feel free to e-mail him, and enjoy a lovely time in beautiful Germany.

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