The 17th Ivor Mairants Guitar Award (IMGA), administered by the Worshipful Company of Musicians, was held this year on March 26 in the lecture hall of London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The steeply raked auditorium provided a slightly austere setting for a guitar competition, but the clear acoustics enabled all of the performers to show their musical skills and insights to good advantage; and they stood to gain considerable rewards, including prize money, a valuable collected edition of guitar music, a new instrument, funding toward tuition in playing jazz-influenced contemporary music on the classical guitar, a solo recital at the Guildford Festival, and an audition for the Musicians’ Company concerts, which are held in some of London’s most prestigious venues.
As usual, the format of the competition required every contestant to select a complete work from the specified list of classical pieces, together with up to six minutes from Ivor Mairants’ own “Jazz Sonatas.” The set list for 2015 featured a broad choice: from the well-established sonatas of Antonio José, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Sir Michael Tippett, to a more recent work in this form by Stephen Goss, and Magnus Lindberg’s dramatic Mano a Mano.
Although the number of entries was fewer than in previous years, the quality remained consistently high and all the prizes well deserved. Tom Ellis in third place gave an assured account of the Tippett (The Blue Guitar), carefully judged in its attention to both the detail and the larger picture, though a little lacking in stage projection. Like Sasha Savaloni in second place, his Mairants item was fluently played and showed a fine feeling for the style; Savaloni’s Castelnuovo-Tedesco, however, scored a little higher with the judges due to the appealing range of color and dynamics he brought to his interpretation, notwithstanding a few minor technical slips. The winner and youngest contestant was Bradley Johnson—his Tippett was distinguished by strongly formed musical ideas and the ability to deliver them with a natural sense of spontaneity; there are corners of this remarkable score for him still to polish and explore, but this was a most promising effort. His performance, too, of the Mairants’ pieces was outstanding and it came as no surprise to learn of the experience he has already developed in the jazz field.
The competition was expertly organized by Hugh Lloyd, the Worshipful Company’s clerk, assisted by Amanda Ratcliffe. Past masters Adrian Davis and Maurice Summerfield attended as auditors. Sponsors included the D’Addario Foundation for the Performing Arts, Manuel Rodriguez Guitars, Ediciones Joaquín Rodrigo, and Classical Guitar magazine. On the panel of adjudicators were Michael Lewin (non-voting chairman), Eleftheria Kotzia, John Taylor, and Roland Gallery.