Symposium 2002 - Impossible to recreate the atmosphere
By Federico Reggiardo, Tucson, AZ
The concerts, tuition, food, accommodation and organisation of the 11th International Guitar Symposium in Iserlohn, Germany, were of such unequalled standard that it is hard to know where to begin a write-up of an unforgettable week spent in the company of 28 world-class teachers in the eponymous small north-west German town.
However I have to begin somewhere, and so if you are sitting comfortably, I shall begin with the concerts. The week was inaugurated by David Russell who delighted a packed audience at the town's Parktheater, but who will probably be remembered most for a series of hilarious variations on the German folk song "Mein Hut, der hat drei Ecken". With his concert David set an impossibly high standard for the performers who were to follow, but each evening we were held spellbound by the virtuosity of Dale Kavanagh (with a remarkable Nocturnal by B. Britten and Jeffrey McFadden (both of Canada) , The Quartetto Nexus (from Italy with an interesteing arrangement of the Pulcinella Suite by Stravinsky), Manuel Rubio (Mexico), Jorgos Panetsos (Greece) Eduardo Isaac (Argentina), Antoon Vandeboorght (Belgium) and Thomas Möller-Pering (Germany) and Costas Cotsiolis, Greece (with a fanastic concert) and the main joke of the week: Iserlohn festival seems to have a long history of funny, mean and sometimes quite terrible jokes. This year the presenter (Thomas Kirchhoff) exchanged Cotsiolis guitar right before the encore. When Gerald Garcia went on stage to hand it over to the guitarist he slipped in a perfect way and through the guitar (an old cheap one) in a high bow and it crashed with a hugh bang on the hard church floor. Cotsiolis hard stood still for 2-3 seconds, as well as half of the audience died.... Then he saw that it was not his instrument - in that moment Thomas handed over the real one......On the open "Richter scale" of Iserlohn jokes a good 8,5 - there is more to come.....
It is impossible to recreate the atmosphere in the town's Oberste Stadtkirche each evening and the sheer exhilaration hearing world-class players at their best. It is hardly surprising that on many evenings the concert-goers came from as far afield as Belgium, Holland and France.
Over the seven days of the symposium each of the 170 students had four 45-minute individual lessons with different tutors, and in addition could observe all other students' lessons, improve their dexterity in finger aerobics classes and participate in ensemble work. I regret to say that spending long hours in the bar each evening reduced my ability to sit in on many lessons; people with more self-discipline than the author stood to gain greatly by observing teachers such as Gerald Garcia, Frank Gerstmeier, Tom Johnson, Stephen Thachuk, Laura Young, Nora Buschmann, Ulrich Stracke, Thomas Kirchhoff (organizer of the whole event) plus all the players of the week. The tuition was both expert and unthreatening for this keen amateur (here somewhat in the minority, the majority of participants being evenly spread, it would seem, between teachers of the guitar and students/future teachers and performers).
Two ensemble groups met daily to prepare a suite of pieces for the student concert. Dieter Kreidler's group gave a beautiful performance of the Weiss concerto for solo guitar (with Kathrin Hohmann) and guitar and mandolin ensemble, while Gerald Garcia led his group in the first performance of his Hebridean Suite. Written specially for Iserlohn, and scored for guitar orchestra and voice, it made unusual demands on the soprano (Nathalie de Montmoullin) as she imitated, variously, the croon of a female seal and the call of a sea-bird to her chick. It proved immense fun; as ever, Gerald's ingenuity, affability, energy and insupressible compunction to cause trouble made practising and performing his pieces the highlight of my week.
The accommodation was extremely comfortable; all rooms had en suite bathroom facilities and were within easy walking distance of the main buildings. Delicious food four times a day was a peril to weightwatchers. Mealtimes proved a good time to test the wares of the various luthiers who had travelled to Iserlohn, and to browse through the sheet music of stores of Chanterelle, Viertmann and Trekel.
At just under Euro 400, this week in Germany compares highly favourably with other courses.
Since the participants came from 35 different countries, the symposium had a truly international feel, and the lingua franca was, of course, English. A few participants were to be heard making valiant efforts to revive the German of their school days; they have nearly a whole year to practise before next time. If you play the guitar, and are free from 3rd to 10th August next year, go to Iserlohn. You have nearly a whole year to practise your German ;-)