20 years to the top of the world and still climbing
by Dr. Friedemann Kiefer
Already the choice of name was a smart move, may be ingenious planning or just matchless intuition. If you doubt it, just google guitar festival, and you will come up with roughly 189.000 hits. Festivals all over Germany, you will have hits in Switzerland, Austria Italy and Israel, not to mention many places in the Americas, Asia and Australia. The same procedure for Guitar symposium will produce a mere 1.920 hits, with more than 80 of the top 100 relating to the Iserlohn / Schwerte Symposium. The certainly biggest change over the years was the move of the venue from Haus Ortlohn in Iserlohn to Villigst in Schwerte. Still Thomas Kirchhoff managed to maintain continuity and transferred the festival without any noticeable break. The new conference site offers greater comfort, many new possibilities and certainly more space for development.
Despite all continuity in details, every festival develops its own atmosphere and flair, which is due to the always unique constellation of artists / teachers and students. This reflects in the equally lively and intense interactions during master classes, at the common meals and coffee hours, but also during the essential social gatherings that follow every concert and often last until the early morning hours. Besides the remarkable of master classes, which are free to join for all participants, the regular evening concerts are the highlights and must of the festival.
It would simply take too much space to write in detail about all performances, I therefore take the liberty to pick my personal highlights, necessarily a very subjective choice. At the same time, I should highlight that the levels of all concerts was merely outstanding, reflected by the number of standing ovations, which the Iserlohn audience never gives away lightly. The opening concert of the festival traditionally provides the first highlight and so it did this year. The opening night, as well as all subsequent evening concerts, took place in the familiar Oberste Stadtkirche Iserlohn. The Amadeus Duo teamed up with the duo Gruber Maklar and Tobias Aehlig, organist of the St. Aloysius church Iserlohn. Four guitars started the festival with a beautiful performance of Oyun by Carlo Domeniconi. The second piece came with a surprise, the Adagio from Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, executed as an intimate dialog between the mightiest and possibly most intimate instrument of the acoustic world, organ and classical guitar, an unexpected instrumentation. Dale Kavanagh, guitar and Tobias Aehlig, organ, and one of the most beautiful and may be also overplayed pieces of 20th century guitar music, can it possibly work? The simple answer is yes, actually astoundingly well. Right from the first bars Dale Kavanagh put her spell on the audience, Tobias Aehlig and the organ were not too overpowering and it didn't take long, and there they were, these magical moments this Adagio still generates. It should be mentioned that during the opening concert the guitarists took advantage of a technically well balanced amplification, which certainly helped the interplay with the organ and levelled some of the acoustic potholes of the church.
After the intermission Bandini and Chiachiaretta took on the formidable job to top the opening act. They sure managed to impress and probably they earned the most silent sighs from the female audience. The satanic and the divine principle impersonated on stage: Cesare Chiacchiaretta firmly rooted with one leg on a chair covered by a fire red blanket, straight up from hell. Giampaolo Bandini one leg off the ground, already hovering half distance between heaven and earth. Their performance, capturing, starting out with Piazolla followed by Villodo's El Choclo and Piazolla again. Now, if you love Tango you love Tango. If you just like it, listen to Bandini and Chiacchiaretta and you will love it. But if you hate Tango listen to Bandini and Chiacchiaretta and after this performance you had love it (or at least your wife did). Cesare Chiacchiaretta has the enormous capacity to express a whole universe in a simple note, sublimely coming from far away, growing louder, lingering, swelling and fading, while the audience hangs on to it, not wanting to let go. In Giampaolo Bandini, he certainly has a congenial partner, who is a superb guitarist and excelled as an impressive teacher in master classes.
The next mention has to be of David Russell on Monday night. Russell, a well known guest at the Iserlohn festival, in the general public has probably by now inherited the position of the household name for guitar from John Williams. Yes, he is immaculate and he covers the entire spectrum of guitaristic expression, baroque, romantic, and of course the Spanish classics. After Regondi's Reverie, Russell brought us new outstanding transcriptions of Händels Suite #7, followed after the intermission by four Bach sinfonias, all delivered with unrivalled precision, but at the same time utmost gentleness and care. Russell closed the set with 5 works by Albeniz. For me, his Baroque transcriptions were the capturing highlight of the evening, I believe this was the hardest I have ever seen David Russel work on stage, focused to the last nerve fibre, most impressive, a world class performer absolutely at his best. It was extremely pleasing to witness, how well the artistic effort is sensed and appreciated by the Iserlohn audience, standing ovation, of course. And the grateful audience was rewarded with three encores.
Besides the evening concerts, also this year the Iserlohn festival provided promising young talents an opportunity to perform during afternoon concerts held in the Chappel of the Villigst conference center. In the past, these concerts have been important stepping stones in the career path of a number of young musicians and likely some of the up and coming performers we heard this year will again go on to be the stars of tomorrow. One afternoon I would like to mention explicitly, three young ladies with an already remarkable stage presence delivered a top performance. The first act, Kathrin Endrikat impressed with Telemann, Konstantin Vassiliev and Joaquin Turrina. The other half concert was delivered by the equally impressive Duo Arabesque, whom we will definitively have to remember. Duo concertant Op.31 No.1 by Antoine de Lhayer, Tango by Paulo Belluati and the unavoidable Premiere Arabesque by Claude Debussy left a mark on the audience.
The Tuesday evening concert started out with the brilliant duo Montes Kirchner and an open door to genuinely South American rhythms and melodies. Montes Kirchner closed their set by a rich and colourful celebration of Venezuelan music for which Alfonso Montes exchanged the guitar for the traditional cuatro, an inspired and refreshing move. Some artists use encores to sneak in a particularly popular tune while others like to show off technically. Alfonso Montes and Irina Kirchner delivered a lesion, how to do both without coming only close to tacky. They turned the old corny Tico Tico into a fascinating virtuoso firework for Irina that earned them their well deserved standing ovation. The second half of the Tuesday evening concert was anticipated with a lot of expectation. Jorge Caballero, highly praised, had two years earlier, on a little more than 24 hrs note, kicked in for John Williams and managed that impossible feat by performing the entire 9th symphony of Dvorak on guitar. So this year it had to be Moussorgsky's pictures of an exhibition on the guitar. Right from the beginning a technical challenge and masterpiece alike, a firework of colour and ideas hit the audience. Unbelievable complex polyphonic lines, incredible speed of the onomatopoeia from the ballet of the chicken to balalaika-style one finger tremolos, until finally the large door of Kiev closes. Roaring applause, followed by an immediate standing ovation, which didn't remain the last one.
Finally, another absolute highlight. Aniello Desiderio, the man appears to defy all limits, to exceed all dimensions as a guitar player and in any respect. His tone doesn't seem to be from this world - simply divine, his dynamic range larger than any guitarist I have ever heard, and his self-confidence astronomical. Brower, Albeniz, Scarlatti, Toroba, for a moment it appears like they only wrote their music to be performed and transformed by these enormous hands, hands that take liberties. Still, each of his interpretations is consistent and convincing. He has anybody in awe; he is celebrated frenetically and he gets away with one encore - who else would?
Like every year, the Grande finale was the student concert on Saturday night, also this year, crowned by the world premiere of an ensemble piece written by Gerald Garcia, performed with the Armenian viola player Armine Abrahamyan. The student concert is probably the most tangible testimony to the quality and success of the festival, demonstrating constant development and the increasing quality classical guitar playing over the last 20 years. Will the guitar continue to develop and the symposium still manage to grow and surprise? I bet it will, but the best way to find out is joining it next year.