Quality musicianship displayed at International Guitar Festival

CU International Guitar Festival and Competition. (CU College of Music)

Last weekend, classical guitarists from around the world competed in the fourth CU International Guitar Festival and Competition.

Running from Feb. 10-12, the competition attracted over 30 competitors from various countries, including China, Japan, Korea, France, Italy, Serbia, Romania, Thailand, Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica and Brazil. More women competed than ever before, a testament to the increasing diversity of the male-dominated classical guitar scene.

Dragos Ilie won first place during the Sunday night finals in Grusin Music Hall. The other finalists were Jesus Serrano, second place, Mexico; Yuki Saito, third place, Japan; and Amir Hossein Sheybani, fourth place, Iran.

Ilie, originally from Romania, is now a senior at Columbus State University in Georgia. He has had success at several other competitions as well, including the Appalachian Guitar Fest and the Koblenz International Guitar Festival, according to local newspaper AllOnGeorgia.

Ilie played “Due Canzoni Lidie,” by Italian composer Nuccio D’Angelo, and “Theme Varie et Finale,” by Mexican composer Manuel Ponce, for the final round. His playing was clean and technically flawless — he executed a complex repertoire with ease.

The decision for the judges must have been difficult, given the talent of the other finalists. Serrano played with grace and great showmanship, while Saito played a beautiful, quick repertoire. Sheybani explored a distinctive set, including “Percussion Study No. 1,” by Arthur Kampela, where he tapped out syncopated rhythms and played devilishly fast.

Two CU classical guitarists, senior Maximilian Mondzac and DMA candidate Ethan Lorentz, also competed in the preliminary round of the competition. Mondzac shared his perspective on how competitions have helped him improve as a performer.

“Winning is great, but the knowledge and skills gained from intensely preparing repertoire and watching [and] learning from other competitors is what is most valuable,” Mondzac said.

Nicolò Spera, the director of the Ritter family classical guitar program, put a huge amount of effort into organizing the festival for the past two years.

“I start organizing it as soon as the previous one is over, it takes me almost two years,” Spera said. “I always look for variety and quality, to expose our community to the best guitar (and lute!) playing in the world.”

He certainly did that with the guest performers and judges this year. On Friday night, SoloDuo, artists-in-residence for CU’s guitar program, gave a wonderful performance with unique repertoire, including transcriptions of Beethoven and Scarlatti for classical guitar.

The Saturday night concert featured two performers. Elisa La Marca, an Italian lutenist, performed a program of Italian lute music, tracing its changes over the 16th century. She was followed by René Izquierdo, classical guitar professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, who performed an animated program of traditional Cuban music. Other judges included Lynn McGrath, Richard Todd and Laura Husbands.

Spera believes the competition has the power to bring diverse musicians together to share their dedication and passion and to connect people across cultures through music.

“The Guitar Festival shows the beauty, the happiness and the treasure that is in building bridges — not walls,” Spera said. “It shows that we all share one language, we all breathe the same air and can all dream together [of] the same future.”

Contact CU Independent Arts Writer Isabella Fincher at Isabella.Fincher@colorado.edu.

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