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A Classical Gas

Semifinalists (from left): Benjamin Beirs, Laura Klemke, Chad Ibison, Sanel Redzic, Marcin Kuzniar and Marko Topchii. (Not pictured: Dan Alexandru Arhire and Ekachai Jerakul).
2o12 Competition winner Celil Refik Kaya.

The JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition winds up

The sixth edition of the biennial JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition will conclude this Saturday, June 7 at 7:30pm, when the three guitarists who passed the semi-final rounds take the main stage of Kleinhans, where each will perform as a soloist in a different guitar concerto with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of its music director JoAnn Falletta.

The international reputation of the Falletta competition has continued to grow steadily since its inception in 2004, at least in part due to its uniqueness. While there are many dozens of guitar competitions held annually around the world, the Falletta competition is the only guitar competition focused on the performance of a concerto for solo guitar and orchestra.

The sold-out semifinal rounds, being broadcast live on WNED 94.5FM, started yesterday at the WNED TV Studios, and will continue today at 7:30pm. Tickets are still available for the finals on Saturday, where the guitarists will compete for the top cash prize of $10,000, a Carnegie Hall appearance at Weill Recital Hall, a return engagement with the BPO, appearances with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and Round Top Music Festival in Texas, a concert guitar by master luthier, J.D. Glass, and a recording contract with the prestigious Fleur de Son Classics label, with worldwide distribution through Naxos.

Joanne Castellani and Michael Andriaccio, world class guitarists who perform together as the Castellani Andriaccio Duo, have been artistic co-directors of the competition since its beginning. They judge all the preliminary round entries with BPO executive director Dan Hart sitting in on the panel. For the semifinal and final rounds this year, Castellani and Andriaccio will be joined by Canadian-born Dale Kavanagh and German-born Thomas Kirchhoff, who have been touring internationally since 1991 as the critically acclaimed Amadeus Guitar Duo. The other judges for the last rounds are Micaela Pittaluga, president of the Italian Pittaluga Guitar Competition, global touring Croatian-born guitarist Ana Vidovic, and David Osenberg, afternoon host of WWFM, the classical music station in New York City. JoAnn Falletta is not involved in any of the judging.

For the preliminary round, each of the applicants had to submit an unedited, professionally engineered CD of their playing one of nine specified concertos. “We had twenty-five entries, right on par with previous editions”, says Andriaccio. “Keep in mind, we set the initial bar very high, as we are trying to attract the best of the b est—we are striving for excellence, not numbers. The preliminary round is designed to attract only professional players and there aren’t many players in the world who can deliver what we are asking for”.

There are eight semifinalists. Dan Alexandru Arhire, a 26 year old Romanian is an artistic director of IASI Guitar Festival in northeast Romania. American guitarist Benjamin Beirs was recently named in the May issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine in a roundup of the world’s 30 best acoustic artists under the age of 30. Texas-born Chad Ibison, first prize winner at the Boston Guitar Fest was a 2008 semifinalist at the competition. Ekachai Jerakul of Thailand, who placed third at the 2012 Competition, is completing a master’s degree in classical guitar performance in Salzburg, Austria. German-born Laura Klemke, who studied at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Weimer, Germany, was a semifinalist at the 2008 competition. Born in Krakow, Marcin Kuzniar studies at the Music Academy in Katowice, Poland with Marcin Dylla, the winner of the initial JoAnn Falletta in 2004. Bosnian-born Sanel Redžić, who was a semifinalist in 2012 Competition, studied at the Hochschule für Musik “Franz Liszt” in Weimar, Germany. Born in Kiev, Ukraine, Marko Topchii is currently pursuing a doctorate degree at the Tchaikovsky National Academy of Music in Kiev. Interestingly, four of this competition’s semifinalists have previously won one of the three top awards.

During the first few competitions, the contestants had to choose one of only three concertos, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Concerto No. 1, and Ponce’s Concierto del Sur. This sometimes resulted in two of them playing the same concerto in the final round with the BPO, and that work was invariably Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, the most popular of all guitar concertos.

This situation has been since changed, all for the better, as Andriaccio explains: “As for the menu of choices, we have always wanted to expand it with repertoire that is easily accessible to the competitors, that is repertoire that is likely that they will play with an orchestra. We have been pleased to include four wonderful new works, by Leo Brouwer, Michael Colina, Ernesto Cordero and Roberto Sierra. We also have to have JoAnn Falletta’s input as the orchestra needs to be prepared with all of this material on very short notice”. Turkish-born Celil Refik Kaya won the 2012 competition performing Sierra’s work Folias, the first time that the work was featured as one of the possible selections.

Past competitions featured the mandatory performance of a newly commissioned piece for solo guitar by all the semi-finalists, but that too has changed as this year’s contestants will be required to play two of the often unjustly neglected Bagatelles for solo guitar by the English composer William Walton. “It was a simple change due to logistics and funding”, says Andriaccio, “as the composition component of the event was just too cumbersome to continue”. The finalists will also perform a free choice solo that will not be scored by the judges, immediately after their concerto performance.

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