A report by Graham Wade

The International Guitar Research Centre (IGRC) held its second major conference at the University of Surrey, Guildford, England, March 18–23. The conference featured several public concerts, six keynote lectures, and over 60 lecture-recitals and academic papers. Delegates could also explore the recently acquired Maurice Summerfield Archive in the university’s library and try the latest Moog guitars in the project room. A conference shop sold scores, books, and recordings from those presenting work at the conference.

The five-day conference was masterminded by Professor Steve Goss (pictured above) and Dr. Milton Mermikades from the Surrey music department, assisted by an efficient team of administrators. It was an extremely ambitious project, unlike any (at least to my knowledge), previously attempted over such a length in the UK—a scholarly gathering of guitarists prepared for an intense focus on a wide variety of research topics and performance practice. Under the assured and positive guidance of Goss—a personality of great vision, optimism, and charisma—the IGRC Conference gloriously achieved every objective the organizers had in mind.

This was not a classical guitar festival in the usual sense, with students and master classes. It was essentially a gathering of professionals; thus the highest standards of research and reflection on guitar matters were the order of the day. The magnetic attractiveness of the concept brought together a truly international accumulation of guitar specialists, with delegates arriving hotfoot from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Japan, the USA, Canada, South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile), and Europe (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland), and, of course, from all parts of the British Isles.

Keynote lectures were given by Jonathan Leathwood (US/UK), Tilman Hoppstock (Germany), Jan de Kloe (Belgium), Thomas Heck (USA), the Hibernian Guitar Duo (Ireland), and Professor Christopher Page (UK). Lunchtime concerts were performed by Bradley Johnson (UK), and Michael Partington (US/UK). The full-scale evening recitals featured the Mobius Guitar Trio (US), Hoppstock, Laura Snowden and Andrey Lebedev (UK), and the Ant Law Jazz Trio (UK).

heckanddekloeKeynote lecturers Thomas Heck and Jan de Kloe (Conference photos by Susan Wade)

It’s difficult to categorize the wide variety of the lectures. They ranged from Cambridge University’s Christopher Page’s brilliant exposition of “The Guitar in England 1550 to 1650” to Oxford University’s David Robert Grimes, who spoke on “String Theory—The Physics of String-bending and Other Electric Guitar Techniques.” Needless to say, it was necessary to cherry-pick the lectures to suit one’s own tastes and schedule.

Steve Goss’ recurrent fear (eloquently expressed), that the delegates might become “stir-crazy” within a few days if we did not have Tuesday evening free from all activity, fortunately did not materialize. (Or perhaps I was too stir-crazy myself to notice!) In fact, the predominant aspect of the entire conference was the apparently happy and contented mood of all participants. Attendance at lectures did not noticeably diminish as the days went by, nor did the level of convivial extramural discussion, so significant a part of conferences and summer schools.

delegates

We look forward to the next IGRC Conference in 2018. The event constitutes a most memorable week of making new friends and absorbing masses of information about the guitar, whether ancient or contemporary (and everything in between). For the intrepid delegates, distance was clearly no object. The whole experience proved infinitely satisfying and the University of Surrey is an ideal environment for such a conference. Steve Goss and his team are to be congratulated on the organization and fulfillment of a truly global contribution to guitar studies. Through their efforts they have broadened the instrument’s horizons both geographically and intellectually

As an extra treat, here’s Michael Parrington, who performed at the conference, playing some Scarlatti a few years ago: