is pleased to present the twenty-fourth annual
Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival®
in cooperation with the fifth annual
James Stroud Classical Guitar Competition
hosted at and with support from the
Cleveland Institute of Music
June 6 - 9, 2024

Review: My Trip to the 2015 Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival by Jim Doyle

[One of] two of the most important annual American classical guitar events
(Classical Guitar Magazine)

From: The Rochester Guitar Club June 17, 2015

The City of Cleveland, Ohio via The Cleveland Institute of Music in cooperation with Guitars International hosts one of the most significant and wonderful Classical Guitar Festivals in the Country. Centered in the heart of University Circle, the campus of the Cleveland Institute of Music is a breeding ground for Classical Guitarists of the highest caliber. I was once again given the opportunity to enrich myself in the world of master classes, lectures, workshops and concerts in the world of Classical Guitar. Hosted in cooperation with Guitars International, the fifteenth year of the Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival blossomed into an enriching learning experience that will stay with me for a very long time. This year’s event was four days long instead of the usual three days from previous years. It was by far an event worth attending.

The first concert was a duet with Jason Vieaux GRAMMY-winning guitarist and head of the CIM guitar department and Yolanda Kondonassis, who is recognized as one of the world’s premier harpists and widely known as today’s most recorded classical harpist. Over the years, I have heard Jason play with different instruments, and this concert by far was my most favorite of all time. The way the classical guitar and harp blend together is mesmerizing. If you closed your eyes, which is hard to do in such a wonderfully aesthetic concert hall as Mixon Hall, it would be intriguing to attempt tell which is harp and which is classical guitar-–as if they were intended by God to be played together. I think my most favorite part of the concert was the Sonata Op. 374 “Spirit of Trees” for Harp and Guitar by Alan Hovhaness.

I attended the lecture by British Lutenist Nigel North who is a professor at the early Music Institute at Indiana University in CIM studio 113 and certainly was blessed by the playing of a truly gifted lutenist. Nigel’s knowledge and insight into the world of lute is immense. His fingers delicately played us great examples of lute pieces throughout the lecture, and I was very glad to be just a few feet from a world master of lute. His influence in lute has a local connection to Western New York where I live via a student of his named Debra Fox. Deborah is the director of an early music group called Pegasus based in Rochester, New York. The group has made a significant impact in early music in the local area through numerous concerts. Nigel’s influence in lute music has certainly influenced and educated a lot of people in the beautiful world of lute and I would highly recommend checking into his recordings or attending one of his concerts.

I have to admit that one of my favorites of the weekend was seeing guitarist Ricardo Gallen. As of the year 2009, he became one of the youngest musicians to hold a professorial position at the “Franz List” University in Weimer, Germany and still holds that position today. From the very first second I heard Ricardo play I was brought into the world of Bach from start to finish. Even more intriguing was Ricardo’s playing an entire concert program of Bach from start to finish with no written music, completely memorized, note for note. It was impressive not only for the music being memorized for such a lengthy program, but also for his sensitive performance. To say that Ricardo knows the works of Bach is an understatement. He feels every single note he plays. I was also lucky enough to be able to attend his master class with students. He was one of the first artists I have seen who used not only his guitar for musical examples with his students, but also was able to play the works on the piano, note for note. His way of teaching master classes is unique.

Paul Galbraith has a very different approach to playing the guitar, which resembles the way a person would play the Cello. His eight-string guitar even has a post like a cello, which rests on a resonator box which sits on the floor. Paul also played an entire program of Bach on his guitar. One very notable observation I made in concert was that not only did he play Bach, but he played almost the entire program of Bach with his eyes closed on stage. This to me indicated an artist who not only knows the music, but has an inner deep connection with the material. I was also lucky enough to speak with Paul at breakfast one morning while staying at the Glidden House Inn, located next to CIM. Not only is he a great artist of guitar, but a very personable artist who is easily approachable. What an opportunity to speak with a Grammy nominated artist, who’s best instrumental album reached the Billboard top ten and was chosen as one of the best two CD’s of the year by Gramophone magazine. This type of opportunity is unique to festivals like the Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival which allows individuals the opportunity to speak with great artists of the music world.

Duo Melis is one of my most favorite guitar duets to see in concert. It is hard to find musicians who are so connected “as one” in a guitar duet. One special uniqueness of seeing Duo Melis play live is seeing Susana Prieto’s eyes fixed on her partner, Alexis Muzurakis during the performance. If you close your eyes, the two instruments play as one, as if one were the left hand and the other were the right of a concert pianist. This is playing at the highest caliber. Duo Melis played a wide variety of music for two guitars, from the works of Isaac Albeniz, to Astor Piazzolla. Duo Melis are not strangers to the Cleveland Guitar Festival, as I have seen them play before, but each year their playing becomes tighter and more refined. I surely hope that they come back in the future as I would love to see them play again and again. If I see them on the future roster for upcoming performances, I know I will be present and blessed by a very talented duet of the highest caliber.

One special feature of attending the Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival is being introduced to new artists. The festival is known to bring artists in from the world whose first debut performance is in the United States. Antonis Hatzinikolaou is one of those artists. His master classes are very good and he certainly has the knowledge to guide upcoming artists in music schools like the Cleveland Institute of Music. One of the notable pieces he played was “Music of Memory” by Nicholas Maw. I had never heard this piece of music which is another reason I attend festivals like this—to be influenced and exposed to new music. At the end of the concert amidst a standing ovation, Antonis gave great thanks to the people attending and to Guitars International for bringing him to the United States to play for the very first time. He thanked the audience by playing Bach Sonata No. 3, Largo. The room became so quiet you could hear a pin drop as he played the piece as sensitively as I have ever heard it played. I certainly hope he is asked to come back again in the future.

Pavel Steidl played the very last concert of the Guitar Festival. If I could make one comment about Pavel’s playing is that he makes you want to love the guitar again. His approach to playing is one of great fun on stage, yet through his many smiles on stage you know immediately that you are in the presence of musical greatness. What I truly liked about Pavel’s playing and choice of music is that many of the works played were works that I hadn’t heard before. Even the names of works were intriguing. ”A blown away leaf” by Janacek, and “The Barn owl has not flown away” by the same composer made you anticipate as you sat on the edge of your seat what a work by those names might sound like. Pavel also played works by known composers like Domeniconi such as “Hommage à Jimi Hendrix” which also made his concert program quite unique. Guitarists like myself who once had a rock and roll background before coming to classical guitar can really appreciate pieces of music like this. You would wonder how Hendrix would sound if he were still alive today and switched to the classical guitar. Pavel made him come alive again.

I couldn’t end this review without mentioning the wonderful lectures. The Cleveland International Guitar Festival is known for its highly educational lectures. Colin Davin gave a lecture called ”The Art of the Collaborative Commission." Another featured lecture was a hands on French polishing workshop with master guitar maker Joshia de Jonge. It is true what they say, if there were a prodigy in guitar making Joshia would rank with the best. The world needs more young upcoming builders to keep the world of classical guitars going. Her willingness to share how a guitar is French polished is wonderful and she never hesitated to answer the multitude of questions during the workshop as she ventured from table to table during the demonstration. I had a chance to hear two examples of Joshia’s guitars played in the performance exhibition by fine classical guitarists and they ring with such a natural sweetness that I didn’t want Jeremy Collins to stop playing.

Throughout my many years of attending this event I have been blessed with knowledge. One of the many reasons I travel the distance to this event is to connect with the movers and shakers of the guitar world and for teacher development. The 15th annual Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival certainly provided what I was looking for and I cannot wait until next year. Jason Vieaux made a statement on stage that this year there were artists and lecturers representing The United States, Spain, Scotland, Greece, Canada, and the Czech Republic. This is a great indication that music and the guitar have the power to bring us all closer together. As I have said before, I travel the 236 miles one way from upstate New York to Cleveland to this event every year because I am blessed every year that I attend. I already have my room reserved for the 2016 dates of June 3 through June 5. Mark your calendars and attend; you will certainly be blessed as well.

Jim Doyle
Albion, NY
Duo Melis
De Jonge