On June 27, right before the LAGQ concluded this year’s virtual Guitar Foundation of America (GFA) convention, the 12 semifinalists for the prestigious International Concert Artist Competition (ICAC) were announced by GFA president Martha Masters. It is, as usual, an impressively international group, boasting fantastic players from nine countries in North America, Europe, and Asia:
Eric Meier, 27, USA
Beiyan Liu, 22, China
François-Xavier Dangremont, 30, France
Lovro Peretic, 26, Croatia
Jack Hancher, 28, UK
Bokyung Byun, 26, USA
Carlotta Dalia, 21, Italy
Gian Marco Ciampa, 30, Italy
Cyprian N’Tsai, 25, France
Marko Topchii, 30, Ukraine
Chinnawat Themkumkwun, 27, Thailand
Xu Kun (Alan) Liu, 19, Canada
For this year’s competition, there were no in-person performances in the preliminary round. Rather, videos were made and submitted by the individual contestants and then posted to the GFA’s YouTube channel over five mornings, from June 24 through June 27—a total of 19 guitarists, down from 37 in the pre-pandemic year of 2019, but a very strong group overall in my estimation. All five segments can be enjoyed here.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, this year’s required piece for the prelims was Chen Yi’s dramatic “Shuo Chang,” which I have to say is perhaps my favorite of the required ICAC works I’ve heard during my time with Classical Guitar (since 2015). (It was premiered and first recorded by Xuefei Yang, so contestants did have a “benchmark” performance to refer to, if they so chose.) Even after listening to 19 versions over the five days, I was still getting new things out of the complex piece, and I was impressed by how much personality and nuance each player brought to his or her interpretation. It is NOT an easy piece! It was also interesting to hear the kind of works the competing guitarists paired with “Shuo Chang.” Some went for a heavy stylistic contrast, others for more complementary modern works. It’s always fun to hear the tremendous variety of pieces that are performed. I always find a few cool ones that are unfamiliar to me, such as Max Reger’s Prelude and Fugue for Violin (played by Eric Meier) and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Sonata Op. 77 (played by Carlotta Dalia).
There’s certainly nothing that can match the experience of seeing the competitors playing one after another on the same stage in an auditorium, nerves showing (or not!), a respectful audience of their peers and other classical-guitar lovers perhaps inspiring them by their mere presence. Recording performances in isolation in different environments for a virtual competition means that both the visuals and the sonics differ from player to player, though usually not radically enough that it puts anyone at a particular advantage or disadvantage. But it makes the high overall quality of the submissions that much more impressive. The ICAC prelims had quite the distinguished judging panel: Denis Azabagic, Gaëlle Solal, Jérémy Jouve, Meng Su, and Fabio Zanon.
(On my own scorecard, I selected ten of the 12 contestants the judges chose; not a bad percentage. So, a personal shout-out to the two I picked whom the judges did not: Christopher Boston of Canada and Alex Park of the USA.)
The semifinal performances will take place in August, with the particulars still to be determined.
We also offer hearty congratulations to the winners and runners up in the two GFA Youth Competitions:
Jack Davisson, 16, USA
Mikhail Korotov, 17, Russia
Reade Park, 16, USA
Ouyang Lin, 16, China.
Yaroslav Romashev, 13, Russia
Sofia Zhernovykh, 13, Ukraine
Elizaveta Rakushina, 12, Russia
Xuanming Liu, 13, China.
And last, but certainly not least, in case you missed it, here are the winners and runners-up in the International Ensemble Competition. It was a really strong field this year:
1. Salzburg Guitar Trio (Canada/Germany/ England) – Andrew Booth, Stefan Volpp, Katie Lonson