The California Guitar Panorama is the brainchild of Juan Serrano and Corey Whitehead. Maestro Serrano has been a faculty member at California State University Fresno since the early eighties and has used his connections to bring big-name talents to the Fresno area.
This year, with the artistic and organizational help of Corey Whitehead, Maestro Serrano's festival was a tremendous success.
The festival began with a rousing recital by William Kanengiser of the Los Angeles guitar quartet. Playing one of the best Rodriguez guitars on the planet, Mr. Kanengiser opened the festival with a collection of tried and true classics and selections from his latest album of jazz standards. At home in ensemble and solo settings, Kanengiser proved to be in microcosm what the festival itself was about - the bringing together of the best aspects of solo and ensemble playing with a mix of styles from classical to jazz to flamenco to modern.
After Kanengiser's master class the next day the festival highlighted the up and coming talent of the guitar world with a competition sponsored by Kenny Hill and his Hill Guitar Company. With a $3,500 guitar and concert as first prize and with guitars from Guitar Salon and Trilogy Guitars as second and third prizes respectively, the competition drew players from all over California. Most notable were the army of guitarists from USC that made the drive up from Los Angeles. At the Guitar Panorama Concert that evening, four of their guitarists were announced as finalists along with yours truly.
The Guitar Panorama highlighted the remarkable flamenco scene that has sprung up around maestro Serrano in Fresno. With dancers, singers and more than a few fleet-fingered guitarists, the concert was a testament to the influence of maestro Serrano in Fresno.
On Thursday, Robert Strizich gave a fascinating talk on the evolution of his thought with regard to composition on the guitar. As a special treat, Strizich first described and then Dr. Corey Whitehead played selections from a new suite of pieces that were inspired by themes of Gaspar Sanz.
That evening Dr. Whitehead and his charismatic duo partner, Michael Bard, gave a rousing concert. The consummate classicist, Dr. Whitehead performed beautifully works by Albeniz, while Bard, with a wild stage manner, played flamenco and samba to the delight of the crowd. When the two performed together a series of flamenco-inspired compositions, their respective stage manners complemented each other perfectly.
Friday featured a mind-bending recital by New York-based musician, Domenic Frasca. Striding on stage in bare feet and black leather pants and a shaved head, Frasca took no prisoners. He proceeded to play hypnotic compositions in the style of Reich and Riley with a laptop computer as his preamp and a pair of abused guitars with pieces of cardboard and wood pasted to their tops as his instruments. No doubt, his music is the music of the future.
Later that evening, we were taken in yet another direction by the power and velocity of the young flamenco Jason McGuire (aka El Rubio - he's got blonde hair). With El Grio at his side singing his heart out and Jaelisa and Monica dancing up a storm, McGuire showed himself to be one of the hot new talents in flamenco.
On Saturday, the festival featured the collection of instruments owned by Jim Foderer. The amazing thing was, Foderer allowed all comers to play his instruments. With original instruments from the early 19th century to the present, this was a wonderful treat. To play Sor on an instrument similar to his or to play Tarrega on an instrument just like his puts all talk of performance practice in its proper perspective.
That afternoon, the competition finalists gathered and all performed well. George Sakellariou announced the winners that evening at the intermission of the recital. A note about Sakellariou - he plays with a confident ease that one does not see much of anymore. I had the honor of playing for him the next day in master class and he maintained that ease and confidence of manner in the lesson. Encouraging efficiency and simplicity, he offered uncommon and deep insights.
The competition winners were as follows
1st - Andrew Hull
2nd - Almer Imamovic
3rd - Jane Curry
4th - tie - Gustavo Castro and Lynn McGrath
The final day featured a fascinating overview of the construction styles of Hauser by David Schramm and the best recital of the week by Scott Tennant. Playing with a command and confidence, Tennant played a difficult program that finished with a homage to one of his former teachers, Maestro Serrano (who was present in the audience).
That night all of the festival participants gathered at the best restaurant in Fresno, La Paella, where Maestro Serrano held court with Tennant and others and much paella was had by all.
Many thanks to Dr. Corey Whitehead for helping to present such an amazing event, one that I look forward to attending next year.