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Introduction

Stephen Robinson is the chair of the Guitar Deparment at Stetson University and also is the Artistic Director of the well known Stetson International Guitar Festival. In this interview he shares with us the history of the festival and gives us a little insight of the Guitar program at Stetson University.

For more information about Stephen Robinson and the Stetson Guitar Festival go to StephenRobinsonGuitar.com

Guitarra would like to thank Denis Azabagic for his help with this interview.
GUITARRA MAGZINE: The Stetson International Guitar Festival is one of the most known and successful festivals around. When did it start?

STEPHEN ROBINSON: The Workshop was created during the summer of 1991.

GM: How did it start?

SR: We initially envisioned a small, intimate Workshop with a maximum of 10-12 students that I alone would teach. However during this first year, because of the tremendous participant interest, we enrolled 24 students. This necessitated an additional artist to both teach and perform.

GM: How was the festival in its beginnings?

SR: In 1991, the Workshop was a miniature of what it is today. The daily schedule of master classes, seminars, concerts, and guitar orchestra remains the same as it was 14 years ago, though in an expanded version. Even with our current maximum participant enrollment of 150 (which has been our cap for the past several Workshops), we continue to maintain an intimate environment where students receive personal attention. Equally, the camaraderie enjoyed amongst the faculty, luthiers, and students continues to set us apart from other festivals while establishing an increasingly loyal group of returning participants. GM: When and why did you make the decision to make it an international guitar festival?

SR: The Workshop was international in our inaugural year. However, it was in the mid 1990s, with consistent international participation, that we officially changed our name to The Stetson International Guitar Workshop.

GM: What was involved?

SR: We continued to function exactly as before with only the addition of the word 'International' in our name.

GM: What kind of planning had to be done to make the festival a success?

SR: I attribute our achievements to the meticulous organizational efforts and careful attention to every detail from the Workshop's administrative director, my wife Patrece. In addition, it is rare to have an event where music enthusiasts and classical guitarists of every age and level can enjoy an outstanding concert series of world-renowned artists of the highest caliber, while participating in daily master classes, seminars and guitar orchestra. At all times, we strive to provide an intimate, noncompetitive, and personal experience for all at a very reasonable cost. The performance opportunities that are offered as well as a luthier's exhibit and personal coaching by our distinguished international artist faculty certainly add to the Workshop's success.

GM: What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome?

SR: Our biggest obstacle has been the limitation of space within our university. Creative scheduling of available facilities has aided in overcoming this impediment. Securing VISAs for our international faculty and students has become increasingly challenging. Initiating the paperwork process well in advance helps sidestep potential problems.

GM: What are the future plans for the festival?

SR: We plan on continuing with the same format and, as always, blending a mixture of new distinguished artist faculty with returning favorites.

GM: Have you ever thought of hosting the festival in different places?

SR: No. We have developed an overwhelmingly enthusiastic and appreciative concert audience throughout the years, and changing locations would greatly disappoint them.

GM: At what stage do you expect the festival to be in a few years?

SR: We expect the festival to continue on its same course of success.

GM: Have you ever thought of including a competition as part of the event?

SR: Absolutely not! Because our goal is to create a distinctly non-competitive environment, the inclusion of a competition would be counterproductive.

GM: I can see that it is a guitar festival focused mostly on solo guitar performance, but what about chamber music with guitar and other instruments?

SR: We have included chamber music (guitar and flute, guitar and voice, guitar and harpsichord), and we always feature a guitar ensemble (guitar duo or quartet).

GM: Do you think this might be a possibility for the future to expand the festival's boundaries?

SR: Because of our limited budget, it is not cost effective to engage other instrumentalists who would not be teaching guitar.

GM: What can you tell us about next year's version of the festival?

SR: Our 14th Annual International Guitar Workshop will take place May 28 - June 2, 2004. As in the past, we invite classical guitarists of every level to participate in daily master classes, seminars and guitar orchestra. In addition to performance opportunities and our wonderful luthier's exhibit, we will present a concert series and personal coaching by our distinguished international artist faculty.

Joining us this year will be The Canadian Guitar Quartet (featuring Philip Candelaria, Denis Donegani, Patrick Roux and Louis Trépanier); Roland Dyens, (French performer, composer, arranger and improviser, and professor at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris); Eduardo Fernandez (fellow researcher at the University Conservatory in Montevideo, Uruguay, and artistic director of Montevideo's biannual International Guitar Festival and Colombia's Encuentros Nacionales de la Guitarra); Oscar Ghiglia (professor of guitar at the Musik-Akademie der Stadt Basel in Switzerland); Adam Holzman (director of guitar at The University of Texas, Austin); Bruce Holzman (director of guitar at Florida State University); Douglas James (director of guitar at Appalachian State University); Judicael Perroy (guitar faculty at the National Academy of Blanc-Mesnil in France); and Jason Vieaux (director of guitar at the Cleveland Institute of Music).

GM: What is the importance of having the University's and public support for these kinds of events? What do you think of the support you are getting from the school and the community?

SR: Both University and public support are important and must be cultivated. The University allows us to function independently, which affords us total creative control. However, because the University does not financially support us, we are completely dependent on our wonderful family of international corporations and foundations, regional and local businesses, and individual donors. We have been extremely fortunate with their continued sponsorship.

GM: Now that we are talking about the University, why don't you tell us a little about the guitar program at Stetson? What programs do you offer?

SR: Stetson University's School of Music is an undergraduate professional school offering degrees in performance, music education, and music theory and composition. The Bachelor of Music in Guitar Performance can also be combined with elective studies in digital arts, or any specific outside field including a five year program leading to a Master in Business Administration. Admission to the Bachelor of Music in Guitar Performance is highly selective with a maximum enrollment of 12 students.

GM: What kind of musical activities would the prospective guitar student be able to participate in once he becomes a part of the student body?

SR: Stetson guitarists regularly perform on campus and in the surrounding communities. We have a very active guitar ensemble program. In addition, guitarists are frequently called upon to accompany our choirs, vocalists and instrumentalists. Because of Stetson's close proximity to Daytona Beach, we regularly partner with Central Florida Cultural Endeavors and the Florida International Festival (featuring the London Symphony Orchestra), who present world-renowned guitarists throughout the year. Our Stetson guitarists have enjoyed the concerts and performed in the master classes of Pepe Romero, the Assads, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, and Manuel Barrueco, among others. The Stetson University Artists and Lecturers Series have also presented many wonderful concerts and master classes including John Williams, Paco Pena, and David Russell.

GM: Is the community in De Land involved with the musical activities happening on campus?

SR: Most definitely. Stetson University is a hub of artistic activity in Central Florida with hundreds of musical, opera, and theater performances, lectures and art exhibits. Over the years, we have cultivated an audience who truly appreciates the classical guitar. As a result, our Workshop Concert Series, presented in Stetson's 100-year-old historic Elizabeth Hall, with its wonderful acoustics and capacity of 700, is full for each concert.