Monheim am Rhein, Germany
May 25–28, 2016

Report by Paul Fowles

 In my homeland of England, the branch of the European Guitar Teachers Association known as EGTA (UK) is widely perceived as an organization most guitar teachers have yet to join. However, for its more high-profile German counterpart (EGTA.D), this biennial gathering has become a flagship event.

Presided over by the genial figure of professor Alfred Eickholt and formerly held in the town of Velbert, this year’s competition in its new surroundings in Monheim am Rhein (the closest large cities are Duddeldorf to the north and Cologne to the south) attracted competitors from around two dozen countries. According to the official program, the host nation provided the largest number of players, but there was also a healthy representation from Eastern Europe and the Balkans, plus a sizeable sprinkling from the Far East. Of the other Western European countries that sent a delegation, it seems only Belgium and Portugal fielded more than one participant.

To open with the famously tendon-twanging “Etude No.10” by Villa-Lobos is a challenge many a seasoned pro would prefer to avoid, but Leonora Spangenberger proved more than equal to its requirements in the category for under-14 players. This, together with a rarely-revisited suite of Japanese miniatures by Jana Obrovská (1930-87), secured first prize for Miss Spangenberger. It was a victory she shared with the equally impressive and apparently even younger Stan Geudens from Belgium, a student of Raphaella Smits.

With all three age groups running simultaneously under different juries, it’s never possible for an observer to hear everyone play. However, I did reach the 14–16 category in time to catch Jeseok Bang from South Korea polish off Tres Piezas Españolas by Rodrigo in a manner that displayed rapidity and maturity in equal measure. What I missed was an earlier performance of the “Fandango” from that same Rodrigo set by Georgi Dimitrov from Bulgaria. It must have been pretty amazing because the jury placed Dimitrov first and Bang joint second with Lucija Stivcevic from Croatia; all three players fully justifying their newly elevated status in the closing celebration concert.

Georgi Dimitrov, winner of the age 14-16 group

Georgi Dimitrov, winner of the age 14-16 group

In the meantime, five soloists and one duo drawn from the various juries offered a lavish evening presentation under the heading “Jury in Concert.” Ever since his young self appeared on the cover of Guitar News in 1970, Greek virtuoso Costas Cotsiolis has been a familiar name in my part of the world. But despite having followed his recordings and broadcasts over more years than I care to remember, this was the first time I’d ever witnessed the man perform live. In a Brouwer-driven program from the heart of his repertoire, Cotsiolis didn’t disappoint. New to me were Alexander-Sergei Ramirez (Peru) and Roman Viazovskiy (Ukraine), both of whom made an outstanding contribution following some patrician opening Bach from the familiar figure of Gerhard Reichenbach.

It was, however, the amiable Uruguayan veteran Alvaro Pierri who stole the show by seamlessly drifting into the finale from the Ginastera sonata after a short sequence of Latin miniatures, a decision he informed me afterwards was entirely spontaneous. The final set found the Duo Montes-Kircher in excellent form, their encore vocal account of the 1930s pop song “Dream a Little Dream of Me”—popularized by the Mamas & the Papas in 1968—raising many a smile. Fond as I was of the late Cass Elliot, I’d never cared much for this song until now.

Duo Montes-Kircher

Duo Montes-Kircher

The senior category, for players aged 17–19, differs from the others in that it consists of an initial round leading to a final scheduled for the last day. A world-class account of Stephen Dodgson’s magnificent Fantasy-Divisions by Kevin Loh from Singapore seemed a likely candidate to win the EGTA Prize for performances of music composed from 1970 onwards, until it was established the piece was premiered by John Williams in January 1970 after Dodgson had completed it in 1969. However, it was that piece combined with a positively explosive “Usher Waltz” by Nikita Koshkin that secured Loh victory in his class. Second prize went to Yifei Pei from China for his vivid take on the Brouwer classic “El Decameron Negro,” and the EGTA Prize was awarded to Siebe Chaui from Belgium following a wonderfully engaging account of Electric Suite by Nuccio d’Angelo.

Senior division winner kevin Loh

Senior division winner Kevin Loh

The point that cannot be emphasised too strongly is that none of the young musicians mentioned above achieved success merely by being “good for their age.” All their performances were of professional quality and on a level that any connoisseur of the guitar and its repertoire would willingly pay to hear. The future of our instrument is clearly in safe hands and so is the future of this competition—Mayor Daniel Zimmermann of Monheim am Rhein announced in his closing speech that funding has already been secured for the next three events.

(All photos, except top, by Paul Fowles)