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Behind The Scenes: Melbourne International Guitar Festival

At this year’s Melbourne International Guitar Festival, local classical guitarists will come face to face with some of the world’s best classical players. For the second year running, the Melbourne Guitar Foundation (MGF) will put on a vibrant and educationally rich program for players of all skill levels and experiences. From mouth-watering concerts, to actively engaging masterclasses, it’s an opportunity for the local performing community to converge and share ideas. As a director and founder of the MGF, and one of the guys running the festival, Michael MacManus understands the importance of reaching out to classical players.

“The foundation formed a couple of years ago, in late 2014,” he says. “We put it together as an idea to try and get more engagement from the local community in attending concerts and giving other young players opportunities for education with masterclasses and other opportunities.”
 
Heading this year’s program are guitarist Tim Kain and flutist Virginia Taylor, Brazil’s Chrystian Dozza, Italy’s Adriano Del Sal and the Brew Guitar Duo. All will play concerts, while Kain, Dozza and Del Sal will also present student masterclasses. These offer a select number of students the unprecedented opportunity to share the stage with world-renowned guitarists, and are free to attend. MacManus takes us through the credentials of the three master players.
 
“Tim is regarded as the father figure of Australia in guitar and he’s developed a lot of Australia’s best classical guitar players from the Canberra School of Music from ANU – the Australian National University – and a lot of his students have gone on to have very successful international performance careers.
 
“And then the Saturday we’ve got a Brazilian guitarist, Chrystian Dozza, and he’ll be performing the program entirely of his own works. That will be a very exciting concert to watch. The Saturday evening we’ve got Adriano Del Sel from Italy and he’s currently Professor of Guitar at Vienna University and he’s won 12 major international competitions, so he’s quite a force to be reckoned with.”
 
A key feature of the weekend’s events is the competition component. MacManus says that classical guitar competitions are cancelled regularly due to insufficient entries. Yet by providing a platform for positive interaction as well as appealing prizes – first place in the open category will get you $1000 cash plus a paid 8-concert Australian tour – the festival is able to break down barriers to participation.
 
“The beginner, intermediate and advanced categories, they’re aimed at pre-tertiary students from young kids around 7 years old,” he says. “Generally we have [them] in the beginner category, and they get an opportunity to see where the guitar can take them by seeing the older kids perform in the intermediate and advanced categories, so they can see the opportunities that it brings.
 
“With the open category competition, that’s the very pinnacle of the performance standard. We’ve got competitors from as far away as Italy and Bratislava, and New Zealand and right across Australia coming to compete, and that will be a really high level competition. It will be almost a concert in itself watching that final, and again it allows the younger players to see what’s possible with the instrument and maybe get some inspiration so they can also aim towards a high playing standard.”
 
The program for this year’s festival does a fantastic job at offering a variety of quality content and activities. A prime example is the attendance of Thomas Lloyd Guitars’ master luthier Chris Wynne, who’ll be making a presentation about the use of Australian tonewoods for guitar construction. It’s a pertinent (and free) festival event, particularly with Australia helping to shape classical guitar manufacturing on a global scale.
 
“Australia’s pioneering and leading the way in classical guitar building and construction,” says MacManus. “Probably the most well-known Australian classical guitar luthier would be Gregg Smallman, he’s currently based in Esperance in Western Australia and people might know his guitars from John Williams, the famous classical guitarist.
 
“Greg Smallman developed a new type of guitar construction, which was the lattice braced design, and that enables [it] to have a very thin top, and the lattice support provides great support and strength. It’s almost akin to a drum kit – you’ve got the thin, tight skin and it allows for great projections. A lot of other makers around the world are using that lattice bracing system which Greg Smallman designed.”
 
It’s an exciting time to be a classical guitarist in Australia. And thanks to the festival, there’s now an engaged and connected local performing community, one growing in numbers.
 
“It’s also just about getting the word there about classical guitar,” MacManus says. “We’ve had quite a number of people attend the concerts who’ve never seen a classical guitar concert before, and they’ve come back to see some other concerts we’ve presented throughout the year, so it’s sparking an interest in the local public.”
 
BY CHRIS SCOTT

The Melbourne International Guitar Festival will be held from Friday September 23 until Sunday September 25 at Melba Hall, Melbourne University. The main festival sponsor is the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Melbourne University. For more details, head to melbourneguitarfoundation.com.