BY GERALD GARCIA 

This was the 7th Festival in Changsha, which saw a marked increase in international participants over previous years.

The Competition

The competition was a main feature, and there were over 30 participants from around the world taking part. This made the Changsha Festival the largest competition in China in 2018, a vast improvement on the previous year’s showing, in view of the valuable prizes awarded. Two of the finalists had already appeared in the final of this year’s GFA (Guitar Foundation of America) competition.

The competition piece this year was specially commissioned from Leo Brouwer. All the finalists were required to play this piece, titled Las Ciclades Arcaisa, and completed their program with pieces of their own choosing. The competition piece is a fine example of mature Brouwer, alternating lyrical and mysterious moments with toccata-like passages of luminous intensity. It was a challenging piece for the six finalists, all of whom had committed it to memory. The Festival committee is to be congratulated in their foresight in adding another fine contemporary piece to the guitar repertoire.

Finalists in order were:

1st Ji Hyung Park (Korea)
2nd Giacomo Susani (Italy)
3rd Bokyung Byun (Korea)
4th Hao Yang (China)
5th Lazhar Cherouana (France)
6th Zifei Wang (China)

Winner of the composition competition was Konstantin Vassiliev

The jury comprised Claudio Maccari, Clive Carroll, Xavier Jara, Paolo Pugliese, Alexander-Sergei Ramirez, Zhenming Guan, Gerald Garcia, Qing He, Jiajong Li, and Li Fang.

The composition jury was Steve Goss and Zhenming Guan.

Winner Ji Hyung Park plays the competition set piece, Las Ciclades Arcaicas by Leo Brouwer:

Guests and Concerts

This year, there were a number of visiting guests from all over the world, as well as the artistic director of the festival, Xuefei Yang. The concerts were all of the highest quality, and included two guitar duos as well as contemporary acoustic guitar and flamenco dance.

The first evening kicked off with Xuefei Yang, who presented an impeccably played Spanish program that included music by Albéniz, Granados and Rodrigo, but also featured some pieces by flamenco guitarists Nino Ricardo, Paco Peña and Paco de Lucía. An outstanding feature of this program was the participation of a fiery flamenco dancer, Maria Vega, who added visual meaning to some of the well-known pieces played by Xuefei.


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Xuefei Yang and flamenco dancer Maria Vega

The next concert was in the afternoon, played with wonderful feeling and precision by Xavier Jara. This young artist was the 1st Prize winner in the 2016 GFA competition, and also won a number of other international competitions, including the Viseu International Competition (2014), the Boston Guitarfest (2014), the Gargnano, Italy Competition (2015), the Ciudad de Coria Competition (2015), and the Tokyo International Competition (2016). His concert consisted of an interesting sandwich of Bach with a filling of Brouwer, Frank Martin and Australian composer Graeme Koehne’s A Closed World of Fine Feelings of Grand Design.

Xavier Jara plays the Prelude from Bach’s BWV 998 (for lute or harpsichord) at Changsha:

Another standout recital the next evening was given by the Duo Maccari-Pugliese—Claudio Maccari and Paolo Pugliese. They used original guitars by Turin luthiers Gaetano Guadagnini and Son, and both played them standing up, in authentic early 19th century style. This enabled them to interact with their movements, almost as if they were dancing. Their playing of Beethoven’s Appassionata and Pathetique sonatas were a revelation—I thought this could not possibly work, but it did, and their concert of Rossini, Beethoven, and Sor was as intelligent as it was profoundly moving. Style, daring, humor, and freedom were all there in abundance.


A special treat was in store the next evening, with the acoustic wizardry of English guitarist Clive Carroll. Clive has his own brand of eclectic lyricism which he delivered with consummate ease. He moved from his own high octane Irish arrangements to music by Bonfa, Piazzolla and jazz great Charlie Mingus. He is a composer of orchestral music as well, and this showed in his intricate guitar arrangements. Overall, though, it was his innate charm and sense of humor that allowed him to effortlessly charm the audience.

The following night, Alexander-Sergei Ramirez, a Peruvian of German descent, surprised us all by playing little-known music by the legendary late-18th century Peruvian composer Pedro Ximénez de Abrill, most of whose music was published in Paris, but was later augmented by the discovery of 100 highly imaginative minuets in a large trunk in Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia) in 2000. Sergei also played under-performed pieces by Agustín Barrios with great sensitivity and insight.

The final concert in this varied series was given by the Duo Melis (Spanish guitarist Susana Prieto and Greek guitarist Alexis Muzurakis), a virtuoso performance by two artists at the top of their game. They went straight in with Rodrigo’s Tonadilla, took in Lhoyer, Bogdanovic and Scarlatti, before finishing resoundingly with Granados’ Valses Poeticos followed by Piazzolla’s Tango Suite. At times their phrasing was passionate and breathless, at others languid and flowing.

Duo Melis (Alexis Muzurakis and Susana Prieto) sign autographs after Changsha performance.


All the artists gave informative and fun workshops to students of varying ability—it is a pity that there were not more advanced players taking advantage of the talented musicians and teachers who came especially for this event.

My own contribution was at the final concert—conducting an ensemble consisting mainly of children, a new addition to the multiplicity of events this great festival has to offer. We performed King Ferdinand’s Folly by Alison Bendy, a composition based on La Follía. The group was well prepared and gave an impressive performance after only three sessions.

Gerald Garcia leads the children’s guitar orchestra

The evening ended with the handing out of prizes— including considerable cash prizes ($10,000 for 1st Prize, $5,000 for 2nd, $3,000 for 3rd); guarantee of an album release on the Naxos label for the winner (the Martinez prize); Martinez guitars; and D’Addario strings.

Organization

The organization involved for the Changsha Festival this year was considerable, and goes from strength to strength. We were all made to feel welcome by the volunteer helpers, and there was always someone on hand to help with a query, or an emergency, or transport (there were considerable distances between the hotel, concert hall and dinner!). Both the Musical Director (Xuefei Yang) and Festival Coordinator (Li Qing Xiang) were wonderful hosts and even made sure that we could watch the FIFA World Cup for the important matches! A big thank you to them and all the people who helped to make us feel looked after, as well as to all the sponsors who made the festival possible. And also, special thanks to Zhenming Guan (Kenneth Kwan), who tirelessly translated at almost everyone’s workshops and concerts.

We’ll give the final word Musical Director Xuefei Yang:

“This year’s festival had Spanish music and dance, the great classics from our repertoire, new discoveries from South America, fingerstyle fireworks, guitar duos both modern and on period instruments. The festival also had a children’s guitar orchestra, composition competition and the guitar competition. This year’s open competition can be said to be at a truly international level.

“Next year, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Joaquín Rodrigo’s death, the set piece for the open competition will be Rodrigo’s Sonata Giocosa. The role of a performer is to communicate with the audience using music. That of the artistic director it is to arrange artistic content to indirectly stimulate the audience. The feeling of satisfaction, although different, is as profound. I am already looking forward to bringing people together for next year’s festival in Changsha!”

©Gerald Garcia 2018 (Look for an article about Gerald Garcia’s colorful career in the Fall 2018 issue of Classical Guitar!)

Restaurant celebration with (top row L-R): Clive Carroll, Susana Prieto, Gerald Garcia, Alexis Muzurakis, Li Qing Xiang (Festival Coordinator), unsure of name, but “famous teacher.” (Bottom row): Claudio Maccari, Paolo Pugliese, Alex Wang (Martinez CEO), Maria Vega, Alexander-Sergei Ramirez, Xuefei Yang