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Symposium 2003 - A truly international feel

By Kay Palmer, England

It is a great pleasure to write my second review of the Iserlohn International Guitar Symposium, which took place for the 12th time from 3rd to 10th August 2003 and was once again sponsored by the City of Iserlohn and the D'Addario Foundation for the Performing Arts.

As last year, tutors, performers and a total of 160 students came from all corners of the globe (in total 36 (!) different countries), giving the week a truly international feel and making it for sure of the most international guitar festivals in the world. Long, hot days were spent listening or playing in masterclasses, improving our dexterity with finger aerobics in Dale Kavanaghs class, browsing through what seemed the entire stock of three different music shops (Viertmann, Trekel, Chanterelle) who had moved to Iserlohn, trying out the hand-built guitars of 23 builders from all over Europe and America displaying their wares, working in ensemble, attending guest lectures and talking endlessly about technique, nails, interpretation, strings, CDs, composers, performers, teachers. In short, it was a week to live and breathe guitar.

The evening concerts in the cool and tranquil Oberste Stadtkirche of Iserlohn (a town with some 90.000 inhabitants in the centre of Germany) were, of course, the highlight of the week. Evening after evening, a different exponent held audiences of up to 420 in thrall. The week saw an immense variety of style of music and interpretation, as one would expect when the play list includes David Tanenbaum, Pavel Steidl, Hubert Kaeppel, Fnix International Guitar Quartet, the Guitart Quartet from Rome, the Katona Twins, Gerhard Reichenbach, Benjamin Verdery, Johannes Mller, Dale Kavanagh, Frank Gerstmeier and Stephen Thachuk. It is simply not possible to tell you how exhilarating these performances were, nor how valuable and enjoyable the opportunity to chat to the performers in the bar or over coffee. This year it was the turn of the Fenix International Guitar Quartet to be targetted by Iserlohn's resident mischief-maker, Gerald Garcia and the organizer of the most funny practical jokes, Thomas Kirchhoff; I will spare you the details, except to say that the Fnix four are unlikely to forget it for a long time.

Gerald Garcia, as ever, warrants particular mention for his unequalled contribution to the success of the week. His composition for this year's ensemble, Tenebrae, written for Thomas Kirchhoff, is based on a poem by German-Jewish poet Paul Celan. Whilst we are accustomed to Gerald composing for guitar orchestra and other instrument, this year he moved in a new direction, with a setting for the poem which featured two guitar orchestras and narrator. Percussive effects conveyed the harrowing substance of the poem and were fused with the well-known sacred melody "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden" (O sacred head ill-usd). This was performed at the students' concert on the last night and the solemnity of it contrasted well with the second ensemble group, under Thomas Kirchhoff, performing Carlo Domeniconi's exuberant "Oyun" (Game). More than 60 students took part in both ensembles and it was fun to watch and hear!

The week of 3rd to 10th August 2003 was remarkable in Europe as a whole for its record temperatures, with the Federal State of North-Rhine Westphalia, where Iserlohn is situated, recording in excess of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The hot weather did not, however, put the kitchen staff off their stride, and the food was at least as delicious and plentiful as in 2002. Once again, Haus Ortlohn, our venue for the week, was extremely comfortable and welcoming, and I am sure I speak for everyone when I express my thanks to all whose hard work ensured this. Further thanks go to Thomas Kirchhoff whose tireless efforts made a wonderful week a reality, and to all the teachers - all the above mentioned players were teaching plus Nora Buschmann, Tom Johnson, Eli & Ann Kassner, Ulrich Stracke et al - whose expertise was only rivalled by their patience.

The 13th Iserlohn Guitar Symposium will take place from 25th July to 1st August 2004 and at a price of Euro 435 represents excellent value for money. David Russell, Roland Dyens, Eliot Fisk, Carlo Domeniconi, Raphaella Smits, Bruce Holzman, Stephen Robinson, Duo Motes-Kircher, Dale Kavanagh, Gerald Garcia, Chen Zhi, Su Meng, Wolfgang Lendle are only a few names of a long list of players and teachers.

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