Nürtingen sits in the region of Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany. The Neckar river runs through it, pictures of which form the hero shot of many postcards. The festival is in the city center—a warren of new and traditional German architecture. It’s been going since 1995 and takes place every other year, so the build-up and trepidation for the event is magnified even more. This year has just hosted the 13th edition.
“What makes this festival unique,” says Julia Dosch, festival director for the last two years, “are the very short distances between accommodation, festival venue and get-together-location. Also, the festival offers a highly advanced program for talented children aged between 10 and 17 years with 24/7 supervision by trained pedagogues and a variety of specific workshops.”
This year, Nürtingen Festival had more than 30 children participating. The artists and teachers offered workshops available to all abilities, for instance “Flamenco” for advanced players, “Improvisation” for players of mixed-abilities, and “Music of Badi [Assad]”, which also catered to non-players.
Eurostrings, a co-funded Europe Programme of the EU, was part of the festival this year too. “To me, this means progress,” Dosch says, “and a chance to develop an even more acknowledged festival. I believe that if we, as EuroStrings members play our cards right, we have the chance to create a quality brand that could change the world of guitar festivals.”
Two acts—the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and David Russell—have been part of Nürtingen’s festivals for about 20 years. This year also included Lucasz Kuropaczewski, Michael Langer, Daniel Egielman, flamenco artist Amir John Haddad, and Brazil’s Badi Assad, Duo KM, Tillman Hoppstock, and Klaudia Nèmeth, among others—a concert schedule which very nearly sold out. Locals and those nearby have put these concerts into their calendars months in advance. One week-long concert-pass goer said, “I come here to relax—the timetabling is flawless and there’s space for me to unwind whilst listening to wonderful guitar playing.”
David Russell charms the audience at Nürtingen.
My time at the festival sadly did not encompass all of these these well-programmed events, but I did catch the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and Kuropaczewski.
The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet were joined by a selection of Young Stars (winners from EuroStrings) on stage at the Stallehadt in the first half, while the second half they played Byrd’s My Lord of Oxenford’s Maske in which they captured interwoven voices not dissimilar to a Renaissance motet. At times their tones perfectly encapsulated a full range from harpsichord to lute. They then left early 17th century conventions behind and embraced Pat Metheny’s Road to the Sun, incorporating altered tunings, off-kilter rhythms, headstock plucking and more— a piece originally conceived to be 10 minutes long but turned into a six-movement symphony lasting 25 minutes.
Kuropaczewski, the increasingly go-to classical guitar artist for Croatian students, took to the stage in Kreuzekirche, a church venue with a more intimate atmosphere compared to the Stallehadt. His programme was as much a display of his virtuosity as his musicality. Opening the concert with Giuliani’s Rossiniana No. 3 Op.121, he blended subtle voicing changes with perfectly musical, almost comic timing—just when you thought the piece might end, it picked up again. His program also included Miguel Llobet’s 10 Catalan Folk Songs, Ponce’s 24 Preludes and what he called the “hardest piece I’ve ever played”—Three Pieces for Guitar by American composer and pianist Marc Neikrug. This was the third time Kuropaczewski has played at Nürtingen.
During my time there, the festival experienced an unprecedented heatwave with one day reaching a steamy 41 degrees (that 105 farenheit!). Guitarists and audiences bathed in a film of their own sweat, so it was a pleasure to be hosted predominantly in the cooler indoor environment of the Stallehadt.
One of the younger participants, Peter Graneis, said, “This is the guitar festival I come to the most. There are great socializing spaces and time to hang out with other guitarists.” Granheis had a masterclass with David Russell (“He’s so inspiring—helping me with my musical phrasing and sound”), and finished second in the competition, which was won by South Korean guitarist Jeseok Bang. Sōren Golz of Germany placed third.
The festival has its traditions too: A get-together after the evening concerts at the “Schupfnudel” in the Best Western hotel; a “family picture” that captures all the participants, including lecturers and exhibitors. The buzz of Nürtingen festival is very apparent; it is intrinsically a part of the town. Even Otmar Heirich, just the 13th mayor of Nürtingen since 1819, provided a special welcome note in the printed program.
The classical guitar is not equally represented in all areas of Germany though. ‘In some parts of our country,’ Dosch says, ‘you will find few people that would listen to a classical guitar concert in mid and Eastern Germany. But in the area around Nürtingen—Stuttgart, Reutlingen, Tübingen—the classical guitar is widespread and highly acknowledged. Furthermore, the Gitarrenkreis Nürtingen e.V. [foundation of classical guitar] that is the organiser of the Nürtingen festival has contributed to creating an audience that cherishes classical guitar music.”
LAGQ’s Bill Kanengiser and guitar student Alexander Röck during a master classJoaquin Clerch with his dancers Klevin Kilonzo and Clara-Marie MüllerFestival ensemble workshop with Helmut Oesterreich; they later performed a one-hour concert. Inside Danilo Cabaluz’s “South American Guitar” workshop. Mandy Bahle and a young participant in the children’s program.