Coming back from Guitarmania in Portugal, I'm very happy to report that the entire week was wonderful - the teachers, performances, the audiences, the students - everyone was in a great sense of harmony throughout it all. The weather was sublime and work and play were often blurred. Even the guitar competition had a warm sense of camaraderie rarely seen by this competition veteran.
My good friend, Dejan Ivanovic invited me. He ran the festival, taught 10-12 hours per day, judged the competition, and performed a huge new program twice with his duet partner Michalis Kontaxakis. Michalis is very warm and friendly and a wonderful talent on the guitar - he has a great sound and expression. He and Dejan had only a few days to learn a program of an hour and 15 minutes worth of music! To think that I was nervous because my program wasn't entirely learned a month ago. Needless to say, their concert was stunning. Dejan and Michalis are good friends and play like one person with 4 hands - completely together, wonderful clarity, phrasing, and a wide variety of colors. It was a real treat to hear them at the beautiful Capuchos Convent - one of the best halls for guitar I've experienced. Every concert was sold out at this festival - there were no problems finding an enthusiastic audience for the classical guitar in Lisbon.
Also at Guitarmania were the wonderful performers and teachers Marco Socias and Carlo Marchione. It was the first time I had met Carlo and Marco, but we got along like old friends, going out to eat whenever we had time, chatting at length about experiences as competitors, performers, teachers, and sharing our love for music and the guitar. Both Marco and Carlo are amazing musicians of rare talent - I encourage those who don't know them to find their recordings and videos.
The three unsung heroes of the week were Paulo Lourenco, Rosa, and Pedro. Paulo in particular put more than 600 miles on his car for the week - picking up teachers, performers and driving them everywhere - concerts, dinners, masterclasses, even hospitals. Paulo himself is a great conductor and teacher but dedicates his help to the festival every year. It is because of his help that the festival has grown so rapidly. Rosa and Pedro also helped drive us everywhere we needed to go, making sure our schedules were correct, making sure the checks were ready, making sure the students knew where the teachers would be, making sure that concert halls were prepared etc. etc. etc. These are not small tasks - one small mistake could mean complete confusion for everyone involved. With their help, everything ran smoothly.
The competition was at a very high level and in the end the prizes were split - one first prize to Mateus De la Fonte of Brazil, and two 2nd prize and two 3rd prize winners. Judging was smooth - no drama or arguments. Mateus had it all - beautiful tone, wonderful musicianship, solid technique, and well balanced program. He will perform next year a full concert at Guitarmania 2010.
Finally, I'll speak of the students. How inspiring to see people so in love with the classical guitar and it's music. There is something incredibly touching to see a person struggling with a new way of thinking, trying it out, experimenting, and the whole time being enthusiastic about new possibilities. Some of the lessons were extra special for me to teach, because I could see that the students were just at the cusp of finding their musical voice - the searching was almost over. I felt like a guide at the bottom of a great mountain giving them an idea of what's ahead now that they've gone this far. It was a great privilege and I feel in the end that we all increased each others lives.
It's good to be back in NYC and to have finally gotten some sleep. I've posted some photos from the festival at Flickr - and included some March 1st snow photos for those who are enjoying the 60 degree weather back in Lisboa....
Guitarmania 2009 photos