Indiana Competition Crowns Winners, Says Farewell to Founder Ernesto Bitetti

(L to R) Odair Assad, retiring Jacobs Guitar Department founder Ernesto Bitetti, and Sérgio Assad

Over the last weekend of October, the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music Guitar Department hosted its 10th annual Indiana International Guitar Festival and Competition. This year was particularly exciting, as the featured guest artists were none other than the legendary duo, Sérgio and Odair Assad. It is also special to note that this was final Festival at Jacobs for Ernesto Bitetti— founder and head of the Jacobs Guitar Department—as he is retiring at the end of the upcoming Spring semester. Bitetti started the guitar program at Jacobs 30 years ago, and has overseen its growth and development into a top program; a remarkable legacy.

A number of talented competitors traveled from across the country to participate in the Open Division, Senior Youth, and Junior Youth competitions. The Jacobs guitar students volunteered their time over the weekend to ensure that the festival ran smoothly and efficiently. Austin Wahl (USA) took first prize in the open division, with his impressive performance of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Junto al Generalife, the Allegro from J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata in C Major, BWV 1005, and Robert Beaser’s Shenandoah. All are quite technically demanding works.

Austin Wahl, First Prize in Open Division

Christopher Mrofchak (USA) took second, Yunxiang Fan (China) took third and Bruno Gauthier-Bellerose (Canada) took 4th. The judges included Atanas Tzvetkov, Elisabeth Wright, Luke Gillespie, Elzbieta Szmyt, and Ernesto Bitetti.

Top: Second prize winner Christopher Mrofchak; Below (L-R): Bruno Gauthier-Bellerose, Yunxiang Fan, Christopher Mrofchak, and Austin Wahl

Liam Hedrick took first prize in the Senior Youth competition. Chaz Privette took second, Teodor Georgiev took third and Landon Vandergriff took fourth. Nick Bonn placed first in the Junior Youth division.

On Sunday night, the Assad Brothers performed an incredibly virtuosic and expressive concert to a packed Auer Hall at JSoM. Their program featured an exciting variety of Latin American and Spanish music, including Astor Piazzolla’s Zita, Radamés Gnattali’s Valsa and Corta Jaca, Joaquín Rodrigo’s Tonadilla, Antônio Carlos Jobim’s Crônica da casa assassinada, and Sérgio Assad’s Suite Brasileira.

After the concert, Petar Jankovic presided over the award ceremony where all sponsors and prizewinners were acknowledged. Jeremy Allen, Executive Dean of the Jacobs School of Music, also announced that beginning in fall 2020, a different teaching artist-in-residence will join full-time faculty Petar Jankovic and Daniel Duarte each semester at the school.  Jacobs’ own Ernesto Bitetti, will inaugurate the position after his retirement in May and then Sérgio Assad will be the teaching artist in residence sin spring 2021. “This is going to be a great experience,” said Assad. “I had promised myself that I was going to stop teaching after I left San Francisco, but I’m so close to Bloomington [Indiana, where JSoM is located] now that I live in Chicago, and working with the students and faculty at the Jacobs School of Music has been very rewarding.”

On Monday, the JSoM guitar students had the opportunity to have a lunch Q&A session with Sérgio at JSoM’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Career Development, as well as a masterclass with Sérgio and Odair in the evening. At the lunch, Sérgio discussed various aspects of his career, including how he and Odair first found success as a duo, his compositional outlook and process, and where he sees the future of the guitar world. He spoke of the importance of blending genres—for instance, popular music and classical music—to create new and exciting works and arrangements to further the development of the classical guitar repertoire.