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Symposium 2009 - a festival with surprises!

By Rolf Straver, Nijmegen (Nijmegen, Holland)

Where are the French??

Every summer you can enjoy there a week of breathtaking concerts and masterclasses given by globally renowned masters.

Accommodation in the beautiful, cozy and comfortable center "Haus Villigst" located in a rural setting on the banks of the river Ruhr. After the concerts, the famous Iserlohn partying, often lasting until dawn and an ideal opportunity to make friends of all nationalities. Some bathe in the Ruhr in the light of the moon, others drink a beer with great guitar personalities from The United States, Canada, England, Peru, Russia, Italy, well actually from around the world - students, players and exhibitor from 48 nations have been at this year's festival ...

Master classes where you learn and where you laugh!

It's true that everyone lives this festival in his own way. I, who was there for the third time, I was especially happy to find my friends from previous years with which I had, thanks to the rise of Facebook since 2008, an easy staying in touch past year. Indeed, hundreds of photos were exchanged between teachers, students, guitar builders and even the center's staff. Long live the Internet! Of course I did my homework too: for the four master classes which I was offered, I chose to submit only the great fugue in D major from Prelude, Fugue and Allegro BWV 998 Bach.

I was curious to hear the opinions (perhaps contradictory?) of my four selected teachers and I wanted to take maximum advantage of studying a single piece. It turned out it was the right approach: each lesson brought me a new vision or technical advice which did not contradict the other. Quite the contrary: Irina Kulikova had suggested to play the beginning of the countersubject staccato; a piece of advice on the correct musical interpretation of baroque style.

The next day Thomas Kirchhoff made me aware that my staccato was produced by the left hand, reducing pressure on the strings while I had better to produce this effect with the right hand, having thus more control and avoiding at the same time undesired noises. Technical advice this time! Then Hans Werner Huppertz taught me a real trick to bring out the theme of the fugue, saying, "Apply, systematically, each time a slight crescendo + diminuendo and even in this troublesome passage where it hides in B major in the middle voice your listeners will notice!" Finally, when I had my last lesson with Eli Kassner, I was quite happy with my playing, but the eminent teacher could still give me valuable recommendations to avoid fatigue and tension in the left arm ...

Unforgetable masterclasses!

But the ones I attended in the audience were not less impressive. I especially remember a very exciting and informative masterclass on Mertz' famous Elegy, given by Roman Viazovskiy to Katrin Endrikat. It was an extraordinary experience, there has never been so much laughing and enjoyment while listening to an elegy ... Besides this, there were so many " photo moments " that, at the end of the class, I found to have taken more than 40! Roman is not only a guitarist, but also deeply studied conducting. This was soon clear to us all: sometimes he began to sing lustily a fragment of a melody, sometimes he jumped from his chair, immediately falling back on his knees in a theater of broad and passionate gestures, always a pencil in his hand, serving as his conductor's bton.

The most comic moment was him massaging Katrin's shoulders, while she should continue to play a passage, phrasing it better. Not only what we were watching but also the funny explanations of Roman amused the audience. What a difference, a masterclass like this compared to the old-style Segovia masterclasses on YouTube: nervous students with tie and well-polished shoes listening humbly to a grumpy Segovia criticising a personal fingering... The week after I sent the images I had taken. They were so full of movement that the stack of photos, browsed quickly with the thumb, could produce a true cinema effect called Daumenkino in the German language, so rich in fancy words!

The worst nightmare of Thomas Kirchhoff

Because of space limitations I will not speak here of all these elements of physical well-being that are also the reputation of Iserlohn: the gourmet buffets, Emily Evans' delicious "medical massage", the yoga relaxation by Danielle Cumming, the superb bathrooms of Haus Villigst, all with powerful hydromassage showers ... All of this is already part of the identity of the festival, like its perfect organization by double virtuoso of guitar and management Thomas Kirchhoff. But this time Thomas had his worst nightmare. Imagine: for fifteen years he had been trying to invite Australia's and maybe the World's most renowned classical guitarist, John Williams. This should be the climax of the festival. A fully sold-out concert , spectators from London and Rome coming over only this evening to witness the big event. Others had interrupted their holiday at the risk of a marital crisis ... THE concert of John Williams in Europe. A day and a half before the concert Thomas received a phone call: John had fallen ill and the doctor had forbidden him to travel. No way to warn the crowd of fans, the only alternative was to tell them, collectively, in the lions pit, the concert hall. Just the thought of it! Doesn't it give you a shivering? What could be the headlines in "catastrophe" type print in the newspapers of that Saturday? "FESTIVAL DIRECTOR LYNCHED" or " ENRAGED CROWD OF GUITAR FANS SET FIRE TO THEATER" or "CITY POLICE DEFENCELESS: CENTER OF ISERLOHN RUINED BY GUITAR HOOLIGANS" ? But nothing of this would happen. Thomas has really deserved the honorific title of "Doctor in event management" because, unbeknownst to us all and after spending a sleepless night trying to find a replacement, he had found one. A tough guy, who would have to deal with the heroic task of playing a concert before an audience of two thousand John Williams-fanatics downright disappointed just before! And this after a stressful departure from the other side of the globe. But finding a replacement and having him coming over by plane the same day without a visa is two different things. Needless to say that it took decisions at ministerial level to have the matter settled. Bravo! Thomas for president! But who was this fearless guitarist?

The revelation of the festival: the heroic Jorge Caballero!

Yes, a hero! Jorge Caballero, the Peruvian guitarist from New York was modesty personified. But what a musicality, what a technical mastery he showed to us! Really nobody could hear that he had not practiced at all the program, established the very morning before the concert (in fact he was on vacation!) And to think he has barely had a chance to sleep because of his jet lag and having to deal in a rush with all the formalities ... In addition, Thomas had requested him to play a special and sensational programme to convince spectators from afar to stay despite their right to claim their ticket. Indeed, all of them did so and were generously rewarded as we witnessed the performance of (among others) the legendary transcription by Kazuhito Yamashita of Dvo?ak's Ninth Symphony, played on one guitar and by one person!

As far as I know, he and Kazuhito are the only ones able to play it, but under what circumstances for Jorge! The applause was endless and Jorge had to return several times on stage to perform encores, each time more miraculous and far from a cooling down to the public (like Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition) Despite this incredible feat, Jorge has participated fully in the celebrations after his concert and the next morning he was back there to answer questions in a collective masterclass/interview, where he again wowed the bourgeois, playing magnificently the famous Piano Sonata by Alban Berg, from memory and without ever having written out his arrangement for guitar. If I had not personally shaken hands with him, I never had the certainty of having seen a human being ...

After the festival, some people I spoke to about such performances of guitar transcriptions, told me they do not understand why one should do this: why listen to a guitarist playing a symphony, while we can listen the orchestral version, much richer in color? They certainly have a point. But they have not been there! The guitar proved to be a universal instrument with unlimited possibilities of orchestration and better than any other instrument, able to recreate any music in an interesting way. I can hardly imagine the opposite: Rodrigo's Invocacin y Danza played on accordion??

Horror and terror!

The last concert was, as usual, the participants + the guitar orchestra playing a new composition by Gerald Garcia, this time a fine work with a special role for marimbaphonist Simon Roloff. But everyone waited impatiently for the "teachers secret", because, without revealing the mystery, they gave us suggestive signals that one could expect something special that evening. Indeed, the surprise was a brilliant pastiche of a scary movie, accompanied by the teachers orchestra and dedicated to Gerald Garcia for his sixtieth birthday. In fact, he was the victim that Death ("the Grim Reaper") was trying to find in all corners of the globe! It was the first film shot by Apostolos Paraskevas, who showed himself a true filmmaker of great talent! His music also, with the sudden terror effects, provoking laughter from the audience! But also the many crazy scenes where we saw Death brushing his teeth before the mirror in the bathroom, or showing the photo of Gerald in the street to passers-by (all very cooperative), or annoyed in a traffic jam (the scythe on the roof of the car!) sounding angrily the horn and arguing with other motorists. Obviously Death eventually find poor Gerald in the Iserlohn Stadtkirche where he enjoyed watching a film dedicated to him ...

The next day was the departure, but some of us stranded again with Thomas and Dale in an Italian restaurant in Iserlohn to relax a little and recall the wonderful times of this unique festival in the world ...

Anyway, the Iserlohn Guitar Symposium: a must go ! Don't miss it in 2010! 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, Bruce Holzman, Tom Johnson, Danielle Cumming, The Amadeus Guitar Duo, Massimo delle Cese, Vladislav Blaha, Hartmut Mentz, Hanns-Werner Huppertz, Gerald Garcia and many more.

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