Reflections on “Austin Goes Classical”

– posted by Dianne Donovan, KMFA midday announcer

“Austin Goes Classical” (June 22-29th, 2010) was billed as “Austin’s Greatest Collaborative Classical Event Ever,” and had been in the works for over two years. I’m pleased to say that the Festival did not disappoint.

The Festival was spearheaded by Dr. Matthew Hinsley, Executive Director of The Austin Classical Guitar Society. The A.C.G.S. was awarded the Guitar Foundation of America’s 2010 International Convention and Competition, and the Festival was built around that event. This was unprecedented in the G.F.A.’s history. There were 60 events in six days. All the action took place at the Long Center for the Performing Arts. There were workshops for guitarists young and old and preliminary competitions that ran in the daytime, followed by major performances in the evening.

I had to pace myself with the “headline concerts” and attended four of the six evening shows. Though I would have loved to have seen and heard all the them, at least for yours truly, like the kid in the candy store, it is possible to overdo it.

Day 1’s main event was Pepe Romero’s (rare) solo performance. KMFA was proud to broadcast this performance, and I was fortunate to have co-hosted it with Tony Morris, host of Classical Guitar Alive. Pepe Romero’s performance of an all-Spanish music program was inspired. Later in the week, we were treated to world-renown local heroes, Adam Holzman (previous G.F.A. champ) with the Miró Quartet. The word “thrilling” kept coming to mind as these masters played the music of Giuliani, Boccherini, Morel and Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Adam Holzman’s beautiful sound and clean execution are always a delight, and the members of the Miró seem to have their own secret language, so it does take an exceptional musician not just to perform with them but to really be part of the conversation…amazing-edge-of-your-seat-action.

For the Saturday night concert, Pepe Romero returned, as did The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, to perform with the Austin Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Maestro Peter Bay. The LAGQ performed “Interchange” by the virtuoso guitarist and composer, Sergio Assad. The shifting colors and moods of the piece were realized through the performer’s attention to subtlety and dynamics.  In the second half of the show, Pepe Romero performed the most famous guitar concerto of all-time, “The Concierto de Aranjuez,” by Joaquin Rodrigo. The performance was preceded by excerpts of a film about the composer and the piece. This was a nice touch that added poignancy to an already poignant second movement. The orchestra was on point and Pepe Romero’s performance of this work, which he has played over a thousand times, was (to my ears)  reverential.

The final night featured the International Concert Artist Competition Finals. Four guitarists vied for the top prize in what has been described as “The Wimbledon of Classical Guitar Competitions.” All the finalists are already on the world stage, but the promise of a 65-city tour and recording project is clearly a great incentive. They all played one piece in common and for the rest of their time, they had their pick of music. I was most surprised to hear the stylistic differences from one guitarist to the next. All were amazing, but in the end only one could win. The big prize went to Johannes Möller of Sweden.

Also, just before the winner was announced, the GFA entered new inductees into their Hall of Fame, among whom was Pepe Romero himself! The audience chuckled and cheered when, in his thanks, Pepe said, “I’m very glad that you didn’t wait for me to die to give me this; that is a great pleasure for me.”

Thanks to all of the musicians, arts-collaborators, sponsors, volunteers, attendees and especially, thanks to Dr. Matthew Hinsley, for his tireless efforts, organizational skills, artistry, and most of all, for his incredible vision. I hope that he’s resting somewhere now, with a cool one.

Dianne Donovan is KMFA’s midday announcer and host/producer of Classical Austin. You can listen to a new episode of Classical Austin every Wednesday at 8pm, on Classical 89.5, KMFA-FM.

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