West Dean Classical Guitar Fest Is Another Winner


The 24th West Dean College International Classical Guitar Festival and Summer School, held in rural West Sussex, England, from August 15-21, was once again a grand success from all accounts. This was the third year it was helmed by festival director Andrew Gough (following many years with John Mills in that position), and as always the week-long celebration of classical guitar combined top-name international talents with serious pedagogy for (and performances from) talented up-and-coming guitarists.

Indeed, the summer school aspect of the West Dean festival is perhaps its most important component. “In terms of numbers, we average between 50 and 60 students for the summer school each year,” Gough says. “Therefore each tutor’s ensemble groups have between eight and 12 students, and usually around 35 to 40 students play in the guitar orchestra.

guitar orchestra
The guitar orchestra in action

“Over the past three years,” he continues, “we’ve been able to help young students—16- to 24-year-olds—to attend the festival with bursaries [known as “scholarships” in the U.S.]. This year we held raffles to raise bursary funds for our 25th anniversary festival next year, 2016. We were thankful for the support from all the sponsors—including Classical Guitar magazine—especially to those who gave the raffle prizes this year: Kent Guitar Classics and Stephen Eden Guitars gave one of their “Cadenza” model guitars; Jose Ramirez and the Classical Guitar Centre, Birmingham [UK], gave a selection of strings and books; and the D’Addario Foundation, which is our main sponsor, gave financial support, strings, and other merchandise.”


This year’s bursary winners—all advanced guitar students—were Hugh Millington, Zoe Barnett, Georgina Dadson, Alex Roche, Simon Pearce, and Berxwedan Kockaya. All performed in a recital during the festival’s “Open Day.” Kockaya is also a member of the Alma Guitar Quartet (with three fellow students of the Birmingham Conservatoire), who were showcased in the festival’s Young Artists’ Performance Platform.

arctic trio
The Arctic Trio at Sussex Barn

The nighttime recitals, at the historic West Dean Church or at Sussex Barn Auditorium, featured American David Leisner, the UK’s Amanda Cook, the Arctic Guitar Trio from Norway, Morgan Szymanski (originally from Mexico), and Polish sensation Marcin Dylla.

david leisner
David Leisner performing in St. Andrew’s Church, West Dean

Other notable highlights were lectures on topics ranging from the life of Boris Perott (creator of the Philharmonic Society of Guitarists in London, and first teacher of Julian Bream), stage-craft and performance techniques, sight-reading, Australian composers Richard Charlton and Phillip Houghton, and more; a showcase for luthiers, and master classes by Leisner, Cook, and Dylla.

Gough promises that next year’s 25th anniversary festival, August 20-26, 2016, is certain to be a special week, as well, with appearances by such notables as Berta Rojas, Ben Verdery, Irina Kulikova, the Aquarelle Quartet, and many others.


amanda cook
Amanda Cook in concert
Chris Stell
Chris Stell of the Eden Stell Duo leading an ensemble at West Dean