The Adelaide Guitar Festival has announced its 2018 program today. Running from August 9 – 12, it features a line-up that features 20 international artists, five world premieres, two Australian premieres and four Adelaide premieres as well as workshops, artist talks, a guitar expo, masterclasses and more. Artistic Director Slava Grigoryan, a renowned classical guitarist himself, spoke to Limelight about the program.

Artistic Director Slava Grigoryan. Photograph © Sam Smith

The Festival has grown a lot since you took over in 2010. Have you found the right formula for such an event?

Absolutely. Nothing is taboo, genre-wise. It definitely makes it an incredibly interesting canvas to work with, because the guitar is such an instrument that has a huge role to play in every genre of music, and we do try and promote and celebrate all of it. Obviously there’s lots of periods in classical music but we try to weave in Americana and jazz and rock and pop music, and everything in between.

Do you get a lot of people pitching to you these days?

We do. The program is curated by the programming team and myself. I guess it’s a combination of field work and research. There’s no official submitting of ideas, but it’s an open line so we’re always getting really interesting projects pitched at us.

When you tour, are you always looking too?

Absolutely. It’s such a huge world outside of the classical and the jazz, it’s a massive kind of guitar world out there with so many interesting and wonderful musicians. Seeing specific projects is also very important because they might have a particular sound that people are familiar with. But certain projects really fire up the imagination and I guess festivals are a really great way of putting unusual people together and we definitely try and do that as much as possible.

Could you pick out a few artists to give us a sense of what you’ve got?

I guess in terms of the Limelight audience, the artists that are particularly relevant and exciting are the Beijing Guitar Duo. They’re one of the most incredible guitar ensembles, two young girls [Meng Su and Yamen Wang] who have been based in Baltimore for many years now, and their teacher is the great Cuban guitarist Manuel Barrueco. They studied under him after they left China, and now they’re playing alongside him in trios and are very prolific as a duo. They’ll be playing Rodrigo’s Madrigal Concerto with the Adelaide Symphony, and we’ve also, as part of that same concert, commissioned Cathy Milliken to compose a song cycle for us for voice and guitar and orchestra. Vladimir Gorbach is the young guitarist, he’s Russian originally but he’s now in Sydney as the head of the guitar at the Conservatorium of Music. Jessica Aszodi will be the soprano soloist. Ben Northey is conducting that concert.

Beijing Guitar Duo. Photograph © Wasin Prastlap

We also have Martha Masters who’s another big American name. She hasn’t been to Australia before and she’ll be playing in a double bill with Vladimir Gorbach, in a separate concert. Tommy Emmanuel will be there. He’s an icon here obviously, and it’s extraordinary to see what’s happened to his career in the last 10 years because he’s selling out big theatres all over the world, 300 nights a year. He’s never been busier which is an amazing thing. For this performance I really wanted to do something different with him, so when we first spoke I asked him to handpick some guests he’d like to introduce to Australian audiences. It’s a Tommy Emmanuel & Friends concert. The guests he’s got coming out are Pedro Javier Gonzalez, a wonderful Flamenco guitarist from Barcelona, and Richard Smith who’s an English guitarist originally, who had his career break when he was 11 years old, playing with the great Chet Atkins in the UK. I think in the early 2000s he was actually awarded National Fingerpicking Champion of America and he’s a real star in the Americana music.

What about some other guitarists playing in other genres?

One of the other big headliners is the great Albert Lee, who’s an English Blues guitarist who is 75 this year. I saw him in Sweden two years ago with his band from Los Angeles. It’s very American music, he’s the king of rockabilly blues and great country guitar playing. He started touring in the 50s with The Everly Brothers, and recorded with Clapton and Joe Cocker and Emmylou Harris. Marc Ribot who is another huge name in the guitar world who has played with Tom Waits and Laura Jones, Elvis Costello. He’s got a very distinctive sound, very big figure in the pioneering jazz world. So it’s a big blend.

Can you tell us about the Festival Finale?

The Finale concert on late Sunday in the Festival Theatre will be a real gathering of players. We’ve got our Guitar Festival Orchestra, which is the fourth year it’s been running. We have over 90 players onstage, and it’s an amazing sound and a very inspiring group to work with. Classical guitar is such a solitary instrument, it’s actually fantastic to get young players involved. They inspire each other and there’s been a very obvious jump in the level of playing in South Australia as a result of this group, so that’s fantastic.

There’s South African guitarist called Derek Gripper, who’s amazing and who has never been to Australia before. He plays a classical instrument and he’s a fantastic Bach interpreter and South American music specialist, but he’s also carved out a niche for himself for arranging kora African music for the guitar. John Williams is a huge supporter and his career has really blossomed in the States and in Europe. We’ll have a Brazilian guitarist called Christian Dozza, and my brother Leonard and I will actually form a quartet briefly with the Beijing Guitar Duo. We played with them in China about two years ago, some Chinese and Australian music, and some more traditional classical guitar music as well. They’re fantastic to work with, and we’ll play a very famous piece by Philip Houghton who sadly died last year. It’s a tribute to him, we’ll play a piece of his called Opals. That will be a wonderful way of finishing the festival off.

Tommy Emmanuel. Photograph courtesy of Adelaide Guitar Festival

You are using venues across the Adelaide Festival Centre?

Like always, we’ve got concerts in the Festival Theatre, in the Playhouse, in the Space Theatre. We’ve also created a new late night venue called Twelve Bar, which is in one of the new foyers and before Festival Theatre shows there’ll be pre-concerts and late night gigs.

As well as a crowed from Adelaide, do you get people coming in from interstate?

We do. It’s a smaller festival than a lot of the South Australian ones, but in terms of the actual percentage, that’s quite high. It’s an interesting audience because at any given show you will get completely different people, but there’s a core audience base that will go to see a recital and a jazz concert and the Adelaide Symphony with a bunch of different guitarists, and catch a late night gig as well. A lot of people are there for the whole thing. We have lots of events in between concerts, workshops and classes and there’s a guitar makers expo this year.

Julia Zemiro will be doing a bunch of artists’ interviews for us and also MC-ing a few concerts. It will be the fifth edition of the Classical Guitar Competition this year, and that’s really picking up international momentum. I think there are seven or eight international semi-finalists this year from Italy, France, Denmark, China and Korea, and a few other places. The standard is very high and it’s getting higher and higher. It’s one of the biggest guitar competitions in the world of its kind.


The Adelaide Guitar Festival runs August 9 – 12. Full details HERE