Old and New Meet at Altamira Hong Kong Guitar Fest: A Report

Composer Stephen Goss (left center), guitarist Artom Dervoed, and conductor Carlo Barone after performance of 'Carnival in Venice'

The Second Altamira Hong Kong International Guitar Symposium and Competition, held August 9–13 at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, mixed the old and the brand-new,  offering insights into 30 years of classical guitar history in China (commemorating the first guitar festival in China) and by creating a stage for world premieres and exploration.

 Many of the festival’s events were dedicated to the achievements of professor Chen Zhi, often referred as the “Father of Classical Guitar in China.” He established the first school of classical guitar in Beijing in 1982 and has nurtured many young, talented classical guitarists who have achieved worldwide success. He also had his own guitar-teaching series on Chinese TV. Even in his 80s, he continues to teach and share his methods with young musicians. During the festival, a number of his former students performed, including Meng Su, Zhu Liying, Fan Shilong, Li Mengyi, and Liu Xianji, and ChenZhi was given a special Lifetime Achievement Award.

Legendary Chinese guitar professor/mentor Chen Zhi received a lifetime achievement award. That’s Adrian Walter, director of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, at right.

 An early stand-out concert was the Zhi-Long Classical Guitar Ensemble and guitarist Meng Su, who performed audacious interpretations of works by John Williams, William Walton, and Sergio Assad, setting both a high quality standard and the “global-local” atmosphere of the festival. The second day continued the international-local balance with English guitarist Laura Snowden’s beautiful concert showcasing her elegant playing and gentle, pleasing composing style. The evening was dedicated to 19th century concerti with orchestra—Philharmonia APA, a new ensemble made up of young professional graduates from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts set the stage for guitarists Adrian Walter and Artyom Dervoed. One of the best-known and influential contemporary Russian guitarists, Dervoed presented Stephen Goss’ new piece (premiered by the guitarist in March 2017 in Moscow), Carnival of Venice for guitar and orchestra, establishing a festive and light-hearted mood for the event.

The weekend was focused on the competitions and on festival sponsor Altamira’s guitars. Through the lunchtime concert, different Altamira guitars were played; then came a special moment: the world premiere of José Maria Gallardo Del Rey’s Altamira, a three-movement piece written specially for the symposium and played with energy and sophistication by the composer and a string quartet. It was very well-received. Also performing an intimate and very popular program was Duo Exaudi—Cuban Rene Izquierdo and Belorusian Elina Chekan; they met while a studying at Yale University.


On the final day, the lunchtime concert featured last year’s highly talented competition-winner, Russian guitarist Anna Likhacheva, and the evening program was marked by a prestigious world premiere: a work by Leo Brouwer, titled Folia a traves de los Siglos, performed by Giampaolo Bandini and Cesare Chiacchiaretta.

During the five festival days, young guitarists had ample opportunities to learn from international artists through various master classes (including one by Chen Zhi). And the open, youth, and senior youth competitions drew more than 60 competitors. In the end, the first prize—including cash, a handcrafted guitar, and bookings at several future festivals—was awarded to Fan Shilong from China. The second prize went to Chinnawat Themkumkwun from Thailand, and the third prize to Julio Quimbayo from Costa Rica; all in keeping with the international flavor of the festival.

Rene Izquierdo (R) works with a aspiring guitarist during a master class

 Also, as part of the Hong Kong International Guitar Symposium, the Hong Kong International Early Music Forum, an initiative of The Hong Kong Academy of Performing Art, was held. The Forum was focused on “Style, Performance and the Early 19th Century Guitar,” and featured series of presentations, concerts and master classes that gave special insights into the music of that era and also making of the instruments of that time.

Here’s a special bonus video of last year’s Open Competition winner, Anna Likhacheva, performing at the 2016 symposium: