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By Blair Jackson

Greetings from the Guitar Foundation of America‘s annual convention!

Aside from a lively vendor’s fair (lots of luthiers showing beautiful classical guitars, and others offering accessories and music, etc.), workshops, youth and adult competitions (closed in the early rounds), and interesting lectures (I caught one on Barrios‘ tours of Brazil; fascinating), there was outstanding music to be found at every turn: The midday concert featured two strong performances from a pair of Texas-based groups–the Kithara Duo was particularly effective on Mertz’s Romantic “Standchen” and a Vivaldi concerto. The Texas Guitar Quartet featured an exciting take on two movements from Mozart’s famous Symphony No. 40, and an exciting new piece: “The London Fog,” music written by TGQ member Joseph Williams II to accompany the silent film The Lodger by Hitchcock. Very cool.

Pavel Steidl performing at the GFA's annual convention.

Pavel Steidl performing at the GFA’s annual convention.

The evening concert by the inimitable master Pavel Steidl was a triumph on every level. The opening half featured a series of Baroque and Romantic dance pieces, all performed magnificently with Pavel’s characteristic dynamism, flair, and sensitivity–he often brought the music down to barely audible whisper, the hushed hall hanging on every nuance. The second half showcased more adventurous pieces, a couple of which let the guitarist bring out his inner rock star. Carlo Domeniconi‘s sprawling “Hommage a Jimi Hendrix,” besides being fine piece of writing on its own, includes some sly Hendrixisms throughout (nods to “Foxy Lady,” “Voodoo Child,” etc.) and plenty of opportunities for Pavel to let his fingers fly with abandon up and down the fretboard. You won’t see that many bent notes in a year of classical guitar concerts! And I’ve never heard anything quite like the ethereal whistling that punctuated part of the piece–it sounded like cross between a Theremin and a musical saw. The whistling returned briefly on the concluding “Hommage a Jana Obrovska,” a Steidl composition that also had rock overtones.

The audience surprised the guitarist with a heartfelt “Happy Birthday” before he brought the evening to a satisfying close with a fun slice of Paganini that had the crowd laughing at the nearly gymnastic left-hand requirements of the piece, Pavel reveling in the challenge.

More tomorrow unless I die of heatstroke in the 95-degree heat! (The convention itself is wonderfully air conditioned, of course!)