It doesn't happen often, but when it does, something special occurs. With artists and students arriving from China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, U.S.A., Ireland and Europe, the Dundee Guitar Festival celebrated its twelfth year with performances from amongst the best in the world.
The magnificent setting of Caird Hall played host to Manuel Barrueco, Sergio and Odair Assad, Xuefei Yang, Amanda Cook, Craig Ogden, Paul Gregory, Hugh Burns, Jim Mullen, Tony McManus, John Goldie, and probably the most important group, the students.
Once the students had registered and found their bearings, they headed off to the first class of the day. The Dundee Guitar Festival prides itself on the quality of tuition offered to its students. This year, the range and level of expertise at the students' disposal was of the highest level.
The tuition was presented in a class format with approximately twelve students to a class. Using this method, the students are taken out of the closet into an open arena where they are exposed to a broader range of repertoire and advice. This can sometimes be a bit intimidating for those attending their first festival but can be a highly rewarding experience from a perspective of social learning.
Craig Ogden Rehearsal
Headed by Craig Ogden (Senior Lecturer in Guitar at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester), the teaching staff included Paul Gregory, Steve Goss, Allan Neave (Festival Director), Amanda Cook, Steven Polwart, John Goldie, and the amazing Hugh Burns. "Hugh who?" you may be saying. Well, let me introduce you to Hugh Burns.
He is probably the most versatile guitarist you'll ever hear. As one of the world's top session musicians, Hugh has performed on record and stage with Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Gerry Rafferty, and George Michael. He has also worked with many of the world's top producers, including George Martin and Toni Visconti. His list of recording credits reads like a Who's Who of the Pop world. His combined recording output to date can be measured in sales of hundreds of millions.
Hugh's insight into the world of a session guitarist was as fascinating as it was instructive. "Sometimes I'd walk into the studio, unpack my gear, and glance at the music being placed on the stand. 'How much time do I have to run through the music?' 'We're recording in five minutes!' answered the producer." Hugh covered a variety of contemporary guitar styles in his class and gave detailed advice on the basics of improvisation, backing it up with quite stunning demonstrations. Successful striving to play one style at a high level is a type of ambition. Fulfilling the desire to play all styles at this level is an example of sheer greed! His patience and willingness to share his knowledge was equally impressive.
Manuel Barrueco Master Class
The first concert of the festival was performed by one of the biggest names in the guitar world: Manuel Barrueco.
One of the hallmarks of a great player is being able to live with the hype, satisfy expectation, and produce the consistent performances we come to anticipate.
The first half of the program must have required large resources of energy and concentration: Three Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti [K.380, K.474, and K.27.], J.S. Bach's Sonata in C [BWV 1005], and the "Invocation and Dance" (Homage to Manuel de Falla) by Joaquin Rodrigo. In complete contrast, the second half opened with "Two Afro-Cuban Dances" by Ernesto Lecuona, and the remainder of the second half was dedicated to the music of Astor Piazzolla. Manuel Barrueco plays with great clarity and authority; his level of control is "simply and consistently awesome". He applies the same level of detail to his teaching as he does to his performing.
Throughout his masterclass, his advice was always to the point. He emphasised the necessity of a solid rhythmic foundation, clarity of parts, and connective phrasing. Compartmentalize the melody, harmony and bass. Each part should sound as if a different instrument played it. Always practice slowly, and use a metronome until you don't need the metronome anymore. (Daniel Barenboim practices slowly, John Williams practices slowly; hmm, there must be something in this.)
Lunchtime concerts can sometimes be tricky affairs; some people turn up, stuffed with food, and expect you to be instrumental in helping them with their afternoon nap. Some drop in to kill time, and others drop in by chance. While this may happen in the outside world, performers at the DGF had the luxury of a dedicated audience to play to. Canto Vivo
, consisting of Claire Debono (voice) and Simon Thacker (guitar), performed a contrasting program of works by Guido Santorsola ("A Una Nia"), Jayme Ovalle ("Modinha"), Villa-Lobos ("Modinha"), Dominick Argento (Schubert, Letters from Composers) and Roberto Gerhard ("Canteres"). Craig Ogden
has often been described as one of the most exciting artists of his generation. Craig has performed concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic, The Halle Orchestra and the BBC Philharmonic and has recorded for Sony, Chandos records, Nimbus, Hyperion, and Collins Classics.
For his lunch time concert, Craig presented an interesting lecture-recital beginning with Lennox Berkeley's "Quatre pieces pour la guitare", followed by the "Blackwattle Caprices" by the Australian composer Ross Edwards, "Sevilla" and "Castilla" by Isaac Albeniz, two works by William Loveday ("Lullaby of Birdland" and "Incantation in F"), and "Tsifteteli for Elena" by Vangelis Boudounis.
made his concert debut at the age of sixteen and his Wigmore Hall debut two years later. In 1978 he won first prize at the Andres Segovia International Guitar Competition in Spain. With his customary immaculate presentation, Paul entertained his audience with a varied program consisting of Joachim Hagen's "Variations of a theme of Locatelli", Isaac Albeniz's "Rumores de la Caleta" and "Granada", Stephen Funk Pearson's "Brunella the Dancing Bear", Augustin Barrios's "La Catedral" and "Mazurka Apasionata", and Sabicas's "Guadalquivir".
A typical day for a student in the course would run a bit like this: morning class, lunch, lunchtime concert, afternoon class, coffee break, guitar ensemble, recording of a piece or two onto CD (optional), evening meal, and evening concert. For those still standing, the Hilton Hotel provided a relaxing venue for the 'Hilton Nights' concert series, where staff members from the DGF contemporary guitar course performed a variety of electric guitar styles. The contemporary course ran parallel with the classical course and gave its students the opportunity to study blues, jazz or rock from some of the country's leading players.
The second evening concert was a joint recital by two of world's most accomplished young guitarists: Amanda Cook
and Xuefei Yang.
Beginning with Leo Brouwer's "El Decameron Negro", Amanda displayed the lyrical side of her playing. She continued with J.S.Bach's "Cello Suite no.6" and finished her half of the concert with three descriptive pieces by the American guitarist-composer Benjamin Verdery. The publicity surrounding Xuefei Yang created a tangible atmosphere in the hall as the audience awaited the second half of the concert.
Her explosive talent was evident as she launched herself into the "Five Bagatelles" by William Walton, her playing on occasion leading to edge-of-the-seat excitement.
A distinctive work, "Yi Dance", by the Chinese composer Wang Huiran contrasted well with the "Sonatina" by Lennox Berkeley. Xuefei concluded with "Mallorca" and "Sevilla" by Isaac Albeniz. The concert finished with a surprise duet as Amanda joined Xuefei to play Albeniz's "Cuba".
Sergio and Odair Assad
Another joint recital featured two of Scotland's finest steel string guitarists: Tony McManus
and the jazz guitarist Jim Mullen.
Described by John Renbourn as the best Celtic guitarist in the world, Tony began the concert with his unique blend of music incorporating elements of Celtic folk, blues, Eastern European music, and a hint of jazz. His style is famous for his ability to transpose the delicate, complex ornamentation found in traditional bagpipe or fiddle tunes. The Jim Mullen Trio represented the world of jazz; their unique sound was memorable for its clarity and range of tone. Jim plays exclusively with his thumb, similar in style to Wes Montgomery. The return visit of major artists reflects well on the prestige of DGF as well as on the abilities of the very competent festival organizing team.
The final evening concert of the festival was the most keenly anticipated event as Sergio & Odair Assad
flew into Dundee for what was to be their only European date this summer! The Assads moved seamlessly from Sor to Scarlatti, Ravel, Rodrigo, Piazzolla, and Debussy, finishing the concert with "Suite Brasileira" by Sergio Assad. The touch, the range of colour, the intricate articulations, the sense of style, all bore testament to the accolade of best guitar duo in the world.
Back to the Hilton Hotel for the DGF's final concert of the 'Hilton Nights' series the guitarist John Goldie
and special guests Hugh Burns and Tony McManus were featured.
The final day of a festival always arrives too soon, but fortunately, there were still a lot of events to transpire before the festival ended: The Assad brothers' master-classes, the lunchtime concert, the dress rehearsal for the student's concert, the student's concert, and the announced result of the Antonio Lamaq guitar draw with the chance to win an SD Lamaq guitar valued at £4,500.
The National Youth Guitar Ensemble
performed the final lunchtime concert with the world premiere of "The Realness Concept" by the young Scottish composer Douglas Whates
featuring guest soloist Allan Neave
and Conductor Richard Wright.
The Realness Concept explores the effect of Anton's syndrome: a form of cortical blindness in which the patient denies the visual impairment. The piece attempts to explore the concept of realness. It looks at how one person's truth can be another person's lie and highlights the frustration that can occur from this duality.
The N.Y.G.E. continued with Leo Brouwer's "Cuban Landscape with Rain", Kurt Weill's "Little Threepenny Music" (arr. Steve Goss), and Richard Wright's "El D'a de San Juan".
The Dundee Guitar Festival
is a celebration of the guitar and its personalities. It's arguably the biggest guitar event in Britain. Next year's festival is already taking shape with the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Croatian Virtuoso Ana Vidovic and the 1st DGF International Guitar Competition. Other artists will be announced soon.