Review: Ibero-American Guitar Festival at the National Museum of the American Indian

Monday, June 22, 2009

Top musicians from Spain, Portugal and the Americas gathered this past weekend for the third Ibero-American Guitar Festival, a three-day extravaganza of concerts, master classes and a scholarly conference.

This year the festival was hosted at an ideal new venue, the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. Besides echoing the indigenous influences in many Latin American guitar traditions, the museum boasts one of Washington's most stunning concert venues, the circular Rasmuson Theater.

No festival participant went further to define his own sound than the young Peruvian Federico Tarazona, who offered original works on a charango (a piccolo guitar from the Andes mountains) he designed and built himself. Tarazona also arranged traditional criollo music from his native land; his rendition of "Cada Domingo a las Doce" possessed a harplike fluidity, interspersed with passages of jazzy chords and an expressive melody voiced in the tiny instrument's highest range.

Later, Pedro Caldeira Cabral introduced a sibling instrument, the lutelike Portuguese guitar. With a bright, silvery tone, it projected easily over an accompanying classical, or "Spanish," guitar in a program that ranged from traditional 18th-century songs to originals.

Cabral and Tarazona both fell into the trap that snares many composer-performers: They filled their compositions with so many technical displays that any melodic thread all but vanished. Still, each musician maximized the fascinating possibilities of his chosen instrument, and the sheer exuberance of such showmanship earned standing ovations. In the hands of these virtuosos and many others, the star of the Ibero-American Guitar Festival proved to be the guitar itself, that most universal yet personal instrument.

-- Aaron Grad

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