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Symposium 2009 - 'I asked him: "Can you fill in for John Williams?"
"Sure" he said.
"Tomorrow?" I said.'

By Jonathan Earp, St. Catharines, Canada

This is how Thomas Kirchhoff, organizer of the Iserlohn 2009 guitar symposium, described his conversation with Jorge Caballero. It was Wednesday, August 12 and the festival was in full swing. Over 200 participants from all over the world (in total 48 nations) were rubbing shoulders with the greats and soon to be greats of the classical guitar world. People who had been coming for years were forging friendships and musical alliances with people they'd met only days before.

Those days started with the breakfast bell. Students, teachers and players made their way past the 250 year old oaks in the courtyard of Haus Villigst. This is a theological college from the early 1800s beautifully modernized.

After breakfast, classes - over 600 in total in that week. Teachers including Pepe Romero, Oscar Ghiglia, Alvaro Pierri, Tom Johnson, Gerald Garcia and Dale Kavanagh heard students with professional dreams and aficionados reawakening their inspiration. Every class was a master class so for those who weren't playing in a lesson a cornucopia of musical instruction was on offer. In each lesson it was apparent that everyone's desire was the same: to stop at nothing to make beautiful music. Quickly a bond grew among people as they united in their love for this most humbling and moving of instruments.

After morning classes lunch always created new conversations. A teacher from the orient and one from a small Canadian town shared their sense of isolation. A German participant spoke with passion about his work as a biochemist to a fascinated table. Through all the days flowed the feeling that everyone's story was integral to the spirit that grew.

Above all the music.

Music filled the rooms, halls and grounds as people rehearsed, practised and lost themselves in sound. Impromptu groups made fleeting musical magic. 35 Luthiers from all over the world displayed their instruments and players of all levels tried them out or listened closely as others did.

In a high sunlit hall the guitar ensemble rehearsed. 100 or so guitarists under the direction of England's Gerald Garcia. As in preceding years Garcia had composed a piece taking full advantage of the many instruments. Each part used techniques which seemed odd, even ugly to an individual but worked superbly when meticulously played by 20 or 30 perfectly tuned guitars!

After ensemble more classes, supper and then ... concerts.

Every night was a feast of the best the classical guitar has to offer the large concert hall. Sunday evening Los Romeros reminded many why they had fallen in love with the classical guitar and its repertoire. Monday Alvaro Pierri displayed his stunning technique to a rapturous crowd. Tuesday three mini recitals. Holland's Duolisme moved hearts with the sweetness of their interpretation, their perfect unity of playing. Andrew Zohn showed an intimate tone and fabulous technique. Finally Oscar Ghiglia moved many to tears and left the beautiful church stunned by the depth and passion of his music. Through the next nights Roman Viazovskiy, Johannes Kreusch, the Baltic Quartet, Dale Kavanagh and Duo Gruber & Maklar alternately had everyone on the edge of their seats or furtively wiping their eyes. Applauding hands grew sore.

The crowning recital was to be John Williams and John Etheridge. People were coming from all over Europe to hear this one. The classical guitar world's superstar had the public's expectations at a fever pitch.

So when two days before his date Mr Williams phoned to say he was too ill to play Kirchhoff was in a difficult position! Who could he find on a days notice to fulfill the expectations of the audience that would be in the seats tomorrow night? Other well known performers were unavailable. A famous flamenco artist was stratospherically expensive. Finally he called Jorge Caballero, a Peruvian living in New York.

Caballero arrived 11 hours before showtime having had little or no time to practice. His program included Bach's intense Chromatic Fantasia and finished with a huge serial piano piece recently realized by Caballero for guitar.

Thomas said "No!"

The concert must include more accessible music - most of the audience would not be able to appreciate the serial piece.

Two hours before the first note was to be played they agreed: the program would end with the notoriously unplayable Dvorak Symphony 9 as arranged by Kazuhito Yamashita. Caballero had played it a year or so ago and thought he could remember most of it.

In the theatre the mood was mixed. Kirchhoff made the announcement of William's illness and offered refunds even during the intermission. Brief applause and Jorge Caballero took the stage.

From the first note he revealed a perfect mastery of guitar and music. Every note was clear and direct revealing a mind with an unshakeable will completely encompassing the music. His technique was staggering but so completely at the service of the music that after a moment's disbelief one was simply within the sound.

After the intermission it was time for the Dvorak. I heard Yamashita play this piece in Toronto and was ready for a lot of fuzzy bits. To my amazement and delight Caballero pulled it off in a way I would not have dreamed possible. What heretofore had existed in Yamashita's mind was laid out clearly by a humble man at the service of his instrument.

Several standing ovations and encores (parts of Mussorskys "Pictures at an exhibition") later Caballero confessed he had nothing left to play and he was reluctantly allowed to go.

There was yet more. Next day a magic hour of Caballero "trying out" a luthier's best guitar. The wonderful student recital included the triumphant performance of Garcia's piece with a virtuoso marimba supplying the final part.

And every night a party to the wee hours. Everyone, players, teachers, luthiers and students let their hair down, played impromptu music of all sorts, forged bonds of fellowship in a field where most of the work is solitary.

Sunday morning, in the soft air of Westphalia, the symposium disbanded, taking the inspiration and fellowship around the world. Will I see you next year? August 15th to August 22nd, 2010. Players and teachers roster include: The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Eliot Fisk, Carlo Marchione, Roland Dyens, The Katona Twins, Tetra Quartet, Tantalus Quartet, The Newman & Oltman Duo, Massimo delle Cese, Bruce Holzman, Tom Johnson, Vladislav Blaha, Mauricio Norrito, The Amadeus Guitar Duo, Gerald Garcia and many more.

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