At Guitar Fest, Virtuosity From Sensual to Poetic
Monday, July 21, 2008
One of the most exciting (if little-known) gems of the summer music season is the Alexandria Guitar Festival -- an intensive week of concerts and master classes held at the George Washington Masonic Memorial every July. Classical guitarists from around the country flock to it -- there's a stack of guitar cases in the lobby before each concert -- and the performances, as you'd expect, push the upper limits of virtuosity. It's a place to catch up with some of the most striking young players in the world.
This year's events opened on Wednesday with the Italian guitarists Lorenzo Micheli and Matteo Mela, who perform together as Soloduo. Perennial favorites (this was their third year at the festival), they focused on 20th-century works that, while thoroughly contemporary, were largely tonal, romantic in flavor and profoundly lyrical. Two preludes and fugues from Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's "Well-Tempered Guitars," Op. 199, from 1962, mirrored each other -- the first lively and extroverted, the second as tender as a caress -- while Astor Piazzolla's "Tango Suite" from 1984 was an atmospheric work redolent of seduction and sensuality, of sultry, unbuttoned nights in Buenos Aires.
Micheli and Mela are one of the most engaging duos in classical music, and throughout the evening -- which included the wonderfully eclectic Toccata by Pierre Petit from 1959, and Joaquin Rodrigo's stunning "Tonadilla" from 1960 -- they brought near-effortless grace to everything they played. From delicate, light-as-air washes of color to unison passages in jaw-dropping precision, this was playing of rare intimacy and insight.
There was no dearth of talent for the rest of the festival: Ricardo Cobo, Andrew Zohn, the Bastepe-Gray Duo, Adam Del Monte and local heartthrob Ana Vidovic all made appearances.
But much of the attention was focused on Polish guitarist Marcin Dylla, who at 32 has won a steady string of awards -- including last year's ultra-prestigious Guitar Foundation of America International Competition.
And if there were any doubt that Dylla ranks among the most gifted guitarists on the planet, they were dispelled on Friday night. Dylla can seem a bit theatrical at times; his face becomes a twitching map of emotion when he plays. But each work on the short program -- including Nicholas Maw's brilliant, diabolically difficult "Music of Memory" -- was almost achingly poetic. This is definitely a guitarist to watch.