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Guitar Hero: Marko Topchii Wins in Style
by Jan Jezioro
Ukrainian guitarist Marko Topchii arrived in town last Tuesday, and stuck around just long enough to sweep all the awards in the 6th JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition. Besides winning First Prize overall, he was the top vote getter in both the Audience Award and the BPO Musicians Award competitions, becoming the only competitor to win all three prizes since Polish guitarist Marcin Dylla in the inaugural 2004 competition.
Trying to contact Topchii to ask him some questions proved a challenge, since he left Sunday morning for his next competition. He finally arrived late Monday morning in Valencia, Spain, where he immediately started competing in the Alhambra International Guitar Competition. After that competition ends this Saturday, Topchii returns to the US to compete in the Guitar Foundation of America competition, in Los Angeles, June 20-25. He will then compete in the Boston Guitar Fest, June 25-29, making a total of four appearances at major guitar competitions in one month across two continents.
Topchii’s amazement when he realized that he had won the competition was very apparent to the audience on Saturday evening. “I wasn’t faking my reaction in any way,” he says, “when I finally realized that I’m not the one who gets the third or the second prize. This was a huge surprise for me. After hearing the results at many previous competitions, I had grown a thick skin, so while deciding to keep my expectations low, I still had my hopes and dreams. I felt that I was having such a vivid energy exchange through conversations and interactions at this competition that it definitely had to add a lot to my performance. And, when I heard afterwards that maestro Marcin Dylla had won all the prizes previously, I felt that this was a very honorable coincidence for me.”
The rules for the Falletta Competition specify: “history has shown that a majority of applicants enter with the Rodrigo Concierto d’Aranjuez, and since the Final Round concert MUST be comprised of three different concerti, applicants are strongly encouraged to make an alternate selection.” Very good advice, since it sometimes seems that while every guitarist in the world wants to play the Rodrigo concerto, the most popular guitar concerto in the repertoire, it makes it incredibly difficult for anyone playing it to stand out from the crowd.
Topchii chose to perform Villa-Lobos’ Concierto for Guitar and Small Orchestra. “The first time I performed it was in my hometown Kiev, in a cold December, the month before I turned 17,” says Marko. “The other four finalists were playing the Concierto de Aranjuez. That was the first time I had ever won a no-age limit competition, something my parents were pushing me towards since I’ve turned 16, reasoning that competing with mature guitarists I could maybe figure out things faster. I have also performed it in other competitions such as the Francisco Tarrega competition in Benicassim, Spain where I took the second prize last year with a standing ovation (rare in Europe) as an unexpected present—shocking and flattering at the same time. I constantly work on refining the works in my repertoire and every time I revise a certain composition I often can’t play it again the way I played it before. I did this just before the Falletta competition, finding so many new harmonies that I could hardly wait to play the Villa-Lobos concerto in public”.
“The first rehearsals with the BPO made me smile and say out loud: ‘Amazing.’ The second rehearsals were more of an exploration of the many possible difficulties of this concerto, but during the final performance I felt we were just ignoring all these difficulties and playing real music without any of the competition issues. JoAnn’s smiles were such an indicator of that for me.”
After each finalist performed his concerto, he played a free choice solo selection. The solo encore, not part of the official judging procedure for the competition, undoubtedly played an important part in the voting of the audience and the BPO musicians, and Topchii’s selection proved to be the strongest of the three contestants.
“El Ultimo Tremolo (by the Paraguayan composer Agustín Barrios Mangoré) is one of my favorite compositions since it lets me open my heart and speak directly to the listener. Still, deciding a piece for the encore was not so easy. I had to use all of my imagination to try to realize how it would sound after such an intense concerto. I even asked for support from my mother at the day of the Finals, because I had started to waver, but I’m glad that I played it finally!”
Topchii says that he enjoyed his first visit to Buffalo: “I have been to the US before, in California, Colorado and Columbus, and every state is so different. My personal experience was very much connected with my professional one, but I still had time to enjoy conversations and my anti-stress grocery shopping, before having a dinner with the BPO’s principal bassoon player, Glenn Einschlag”.
So, how does anyone plan to compete in four competitions in a month? “I’m starting to get used to planning competitions in a row, even if they are very different. I prepared the Villa-Lobos just for the Falletta competition, but each competition has some special requirements. I have to confess that I haven’t been preparing these compositions as much as I should have, so I will just try to enjoy the experience and be as desperate but thoughtful as I can. I’ve succeeded in situations like this before”.
Based on his win last Saturday, Marko has earned the right to be positive about his future chances.blog comments powered by Disqus
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