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Symposium 2005 - Breathtaking performances

by Jen Watson, Sidney, Australia

Aniello Desiderio, Laura Young, Costas Cotsiolis, Hubert Käppel As I approached the entrance to the Evangelic Academie through the gentle summer rain, it occurred to me not for the first time that if there is indeed an afterlife, then the one reserved for classical guitar lovers must be a lot like the Iserlohn International Guitar Symposium.

Held every year during the European summer, the Iserlohn Symposium is a week of guitar-related activities for which it would be worth travelling a lot further than one hour on the train from Cologne.

The Symposium's concerts are held in the city-centre, in the atmospheric Oberste Stadtkirch, under the gaze of one of Iserlohn's former crusaders. The church was established in the 14th century, and is happily located right next door to the excellent Kln Ecke pub, who's owners will make you welcome before, after and even during concerts.

And you may well have needed a drink after the breathtaking performances in 2005. The honour of playing the opening concert fell to Costas Cotsiolas this year. Next evening came a triple bill featuring the elegant guitar stylings of Andrea Vettoretti, Dale Kavanagh and Massimo delle Cese. Tuesday brought another triple bill with Waldemar Gromolak, the splendidly trousered David Leisner and Tilman Hopstock all delivering great performances.

Wednesday brought some pangs of homesickness for the Australians in the audience (both of us!) with performances from Karin Schaupp first solo and then with the Saffire Quartet who had the audience grooving in the pews. The intervening performance that night was the classy duo of Jorge Cardoso and Liliana Rodriguez who wooed the audience with a concert of Argentinian music, including of course the work of Cardoso.

Thursday saw the return of Laura Young after an absence from the solo concert stage in stunning form, followed by Carlo Marchione. The audience was anticipating some sparring with both performers intending to play Bach's Ciaconna BWV 1004, until the gentlemanly Mr Marchione volunteered to substitute another work. On Friday evening the Kaltchev Duo opened the show with a glowing performance, followed by Aniello Desiderio who demonstrated why he is known as a Phenomenon.

On the final evening it was the turn of the students at the Symposium to shine, including two ensembles led by Gerald Garcia and Jaime Zenamon. Unfortunately, there is never enough time for everyone to play who might like to, and I have to say that the audience would have happily sat through a full concert by each student who performed, so high was the standard. Mid-way through the show, Gerald Garcia and Laura Young gave an interpretive demonstration of the sometimes difficult relationship between performer and composer. Actually, that part was a joke.

Speaking of jokes, it has become something of a tradition at Iserlohn that Gerald Garcia gets to persecute some innocent, hard-working performerer, I mean a practical joke of a flattering nature may occur. This year, one performance was put back a little to accommodate a visit from a lot of swarthy security men who heralded the arrival of the Pope. Once His Holiness who looked a lot like Tom Johnson realised he ought to be in Cologne and not Iserlohn, he made a hasty departure.

I've attended Iserlohn a couple of times now although I live in Australia, and each time several people have asked me looking a little aghast you didn't come (to Europe) just for this did you?'. And my answer so far has been: no. But this doesn't necessarily mean that I wouldn't travel to Germany just to attend the Symposium. The price of registration plus an economy class air ticket just about equals one year's tuition with a good teacher in Australia. And, with over 600 individual lessons, finger aerobic, lectures, and ensemble class, the conscientious student can just about fit one year's study into one week.

Guitarists of all levels are welcome to take classes at the Symposium, and it's a great chance to learn from some of the best teachers from around the world. You can also take advantage of the chance to watch any, and as many, classes as you choose. In 2005 the teachers present were: Costas Cotsiolis (Greece), Aniello Desiderio (Italy), Carlo Marchione (Italy), Dale Kavanagh (Canada), Jorge Cardoso (Argentina), Laura Young (Canada), Kaltchev Guitar Duo (Bulgaria), Waldemar Gromolak (Poland), Karin Schaupp (Australia), Slava Grigoryan (Australia), Gareth Koch (Australia), Gerhard Reichenbach (Germany), David Leisner (USA), Tom Johnson (USA), Andrea Vettoretti (Italy), Tilman Hoppstock (Germany), Jorgos Panetsos (Greece), Jaime M. Zenamon (Brazil), Goran Krivokapic (Croatia), Stephen Thachuk (Canada), Gerald Garcia (England), Frank Gerstmeier (Germany), Eli Kassner (Canada), Massimo delle Cese (Italy), Ulrich Stracke (Germany) and Thomas Kirchhoff (Germany).

Laura Young and Thomas Kirchhoff Watching and taking classes with teachers such as these is a great opportunity to learn, and to be exposed to new ideas as a student, or as a teacher of guitar. And if you get a little tired (and emotional?) you can take a walk in the grounds, or retire to the garden for coffee and cake every afternoon at 3 o'clock. Many people take advantage of the chance to stay on-site in the accommodation at the Evangelic Academie, with all meals provided.

Each year at Iserlohn there are exhibitions by a selection of guitar makers from all over Europe, and also from a number of music stores in 2005 it was Gitarren-Viertmann (Cologne) and Chanterelle (Heidelberg). So if you get sick of playing your own guitar, you can check out some new ones, invest in some new music, or just stock up on musical-note shaped spaghetti (and you can never have too much of that).

The outstanding level of concert performances was a real inspiration to the many students present, which (only partly) accounts for the full house at Finger Aerobics at 8.45 in the morning. And I don't for one minute underestimate the charisma of Dale Kavanagh or her authoritative technique when I say that. But after each evening performance Symposium guests return to the Evangelic Academie to find the bar open. And it might really be rude for drinkers not to at least try the local Iserlohner beer once.

At Iserlohn many of the performers and teachers are at the bar too, and it allows a unique chance to talk and share ideas, and for guests and performers to get to know each other a little. Who knew, for instance, that Aniello Desiderio sings such a beautiful version of O Sole Mio, or that Gerald Garcia enjoys a j oke although you might have known that already. You can also meet fellow guests from around the world and talk shop or even talk about something not guitar-related.

The Symposium is organised by Professors Dale Kavanagh and Thomas Kirchhoff, and Thomas will be there to greet you when you arrive (did you pay?) and organise a taxi to the station when you leave (get out of here!), and in between will answer all your questions, assist with any problems, and maybe throw a set of guitar strings at your head if you happen to catch his eye at dinner.

But seriously, the organisers are fantastic and go to an enormous amount of effort every year to make sure everything runs smoothly and that everyone has a great time. I'm sure I'm right in saying that everyone who attends would give a big three cheers of appreciation to the organisers and the staff at the venue. And we can't wait to get back to Iserlohn again

In 2006 the Symposium will be held between 30 July and 6 August. For more information, go to www.guitarsymposium.de.

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