Eight talented classical guitarists from around the world will converge on Buffalo, New York, June 8–11 to compete in the semifinals, and then the finals, of the prestigious biannual JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition, which was the first contest of its kind to allow finalists to perform with a symphony orchestra—in this case the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Falletta. According to the official rules, the competition is open to “classical guitarists of all ages at the onset of their careers who are not represented by major artist management.” The winner takes home a $10,000 first prize, a return engagement with the BPO, and a concert at the Incontri Musicali series in Milan, Italy.

This year’s eight semifinalists are Anton Baranov (Russia), Paul Psarras (Greece/US), Thomas Csaba (France), Oscar Somersalo (Finland), Silvio Octavian Ciulei (Romania/US), Andras Csaki (Hungary), Alec Holcomb (US), and Thomas Viloteau (France, pictured above).

It’s a rigorous competition. In the preliminary round, the guitarists submit an unedited CD of them performing—either with piano or orchestral accompaniment—the first movement of one or two of nine prescribed concerti, by Brouwer, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Ponce, Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, and a few others, plus specified cadenzas which might come from different movements of each piece. Additionally, this year each guitarist’s CD had to include a performance of Roberto Gerhard’s “Fantasia for Guitar,” along with a live recording of a work at least five minutes in length, and another free choice five to eight minutes long. The eight semifinalists were selected by a panel of judges from the submitted CDs.

(An interesting advisory in the official rules for the preliminary round: “Falletta Competition history has shown that a majority of applicants enter with the Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez. Since the Final Round concert must be comprised of three different concerti, applicants are strongly encouraged to make an alternate selection. You now have the option to enter with two concerto choices… If you choose to enter two concerti and are selected to advance to the Semifinal Round, you will be notified which concerto you will perform for the rest of the competition…”)

For the semifinal rounds on June 8 and 9, each guitarist will play their entire concerto with piano accompaniment, plus play a free-choice solo piece. For the final round, three of the eight semi-finalists will get to perform with the BPO—and also play a non-judged solo piece—and the winner will then be chosen. The semifinals will take place at Buffalo’s WNED television studios and be broadcast on WNED radio locally, but also streamed live on wned.org, so anyone can watch on their computer. (The show starts at 7:30 p.m. East Coast US time each night.) The finals with the BPO are on June 10 at Kleinhans Music Hall.

The first Falletta Competition, in 2004, was won by Marcin Dylla, who has gone on to have a sensational career, of course. Other notable past winners include Marko Topchii, Artyom Dervoed, and Ekachai Jearakul. A double-CD of performances from past competitions, called Stars of the Guitar, was just released, and receives a favorable review in the next (Fall 2016) issue of Classical Guitar.

Marko Topchii and JoAnn Falletta (photo E. Elibol WNED)

Marko Topchii and JoAnn Falletta (photo E. Elibol WNED)