The Adelaide Guitar Festival has announced its 2021 program. Previously a biennial event, the 2021 program will mark the beginning of the Festival as an annual event.

Announcing the line-up, Artistic Director Slava Grigoryan said: “We are very fortunate to have so many extraordinary guitarists living right here in Australia, and this year is the perfect opportunity to celebrate their artistic excellence with a selection of inspiring performances and unique collaborations.”

“As always, we will shine a light on the guitar’s ability to star in any genre of music – everything from classical and jazz to rock, blues & roots and flamenco. It’s going to be a spectacular few weeks as we explore all the magnificent possibilities of this instrument, and the musicians who have spent years and even decades honing their skills.”

The 2021 program includes the Melbourne Guitar Quartet who will perform with Andrew Blanch, the winner of the 2019 Adelaide International Classical Guitar Competition, and the Adelaide Guitar Festival Orchestra.

Andrew Blanch. Photograph courtesy of Adelaide Guitar Festival

In a special free event, the Classical Guitar Society of Victoria will pay tribute to the late Julian Bream. Chart-topping blues & roots musician Ash Grunwald will present an intimate concert experience supported by local musician Nick Kipridis, while folk duo Hussy Hicks is teaming up with fellow Queenslander Lecia Louise, a guitarist and singer-songwriter.

Adelaide cabaret star Carla Lippis makes her first Adelaide Guitar Festival appearance, performing with a backing band including her guitarist husband Geoff Crowther. She will share the bill with homegrown jazz guitar giants Hugh Stuckey and James Muller in a world premiere collaboration.

The Festival will also showcase some of South Australia’s most respected bassists with The Lowdown – a celebration of the bass guitar across funk, jazz, rock, experimental and country. Dennis Kipridis will lead the concert with fellow bass guitarists Flik Freeman, Damien Steele Scott, Nick Sinclair and Ross McHenry, along with double bassist Lucinda Peters.

Paco Lara will highlight the flamenco guitar with The Andalusian Guitar as part of a double bill with Adelaide flamenco ensemble Compañía Alma Flamenca.

Meanwhile, the Guitar Winter School will feature a classical workshop run by Paul Svoboda, Giuseppe Zangari and Andras Tuske, which will culminate in a performance by the Adelaide Guitar Festival Orchestra as the support act for the Melbourne Guitar Quartet and Andrew Blanch.

To celebrate the announcement of the 2021 program Limelight spoke to the Melbourne Guitar Quartet (Michael MacManus, Jeremy Tottenham, Ben Dix and Daniel McKay).

Melbourne Guitar Quartet. Photograph courtesy of Adelaide Guitar Festival

You are known for blending innovative classical arrangements, contemporary works and newly commissioned pieces. Will that be the mix at your Adelaide Guitar Festival concert and what repertoire will you perform?

Yes, you have pretty much nailed our programming for this recital! For the Adelaide Guitar Festival we’ll be performing works from our 2020 CD Blood Oath, so it will be works by Arvo Pärt, Phillip Glass, Pēteris Vasks and one of Australia’s leading composers, Robert Davidson.

Will there be a new work in the mix?

We’ll be including the gorgeous works River and Cliffs we commissioned from Robert Davidson. The above mentioned disc features the world premiere recording of these new works.

How important is it to you to be expanding the guitar repertoire by commissioning new works?

It really is important, isn’t it? One can see how the guitar’s repertoire – still quite young by some standards – has been successfully expanded by leading guitarists around the world from Segovia, Julian Bream and John Williams, through to the present day. In Australia, it has been through the tireless efforts of many of our fantastic guitarists including Timothy Kain, Karin Schaupp, Matt Withers and Slava Grigoryan that we have such a colourful and vibrant repertoire to draw upon by local composers. For a quartet made up of ‘Guitar Family’ instruments, it’s something of a necessity to commission new works, and encourage composers to write for these instruments. They are still somewhat unfamiliar instruments to some people, but we’ve found that once a composer hears the range of colour available, they tend to jump at the chance to write for one of the combinations of the family instruments. We are currently in discussion with one Australia’s most exciting younger composers about a new work for guitar family, but we can’t say too much about that yet…

How important is the mix of instruments that you use (classical bass, baritone, standard, treble and octave guitars) to your sound?

Quite simply, we couldn’t do what we do without them. Of course, the instruments allow us a far greater range of pitch than four ‘standard’ classical guitars, but it’s also the range of colour they produce that lends itself to the creation of new works and transcriptions. Australian composers such as Phillip Houghton, Elena Kats-Chernin and Richard Charlton have absolutely ‘got inside’ these instruments and created new ‘sonic worlds’ unavailable to other combinations of guitars. From a transcription point of view, we couldn’t have transcribed much of our most recent repertoire from Maurice Ravel to Neko Case without utilising the Guitar Family. We find ourselves really enjoying performing works for piano and string quartet from some of the giants of the Western art music tradition who just didn’t write for the guitar – one of our favourite recital programs of recent years is entirely made up of French repertoire by Debussy, Rameau and Ravel.

How often do you include percussion and will you do that here?

We were just discussing this in rehearsal last night! We weren’t planning on this occasion to play any works with percussion as our program is made up of works from our latest CD Blood Oath, as we said. We have used percussion on numerous occasions, most notably in our transcription the piece Omphalo Centric Lecture by one of Australia’s most loved composers [and great friend of the guitar!] Nigel Westlake. We had to build our own log drum for this one! We have also collaborated with our friend Steve Falk who brought his complete percussion rig to perform with us at the Melbourne Recital Centre – the story goes he heard our attempts at percussion and could see we needed professional help – using words to the effect of “As percussionists, you make great guitarists!”

Have you performed at the Adelaide Guitar Festival before?

MGQ performed for the Adelaide Guitar Festival roughly a decade ago, and we have extremely happy memories of not only our recital, but of seeing so many wonderful musicians performing in concert, but also informally into the early hours of the morning! One of Yamandu Costa’s late night performances is the stuff of legend, and the stories still get a run at MGQ rehearsals! We can’t wait to return.

How do you see the festival, and its importance in the guitar world?

Festivals such as the Adelaide Guitar Festival are so important to us guitarists. Not only do they give us a chance to see so many great artists from around Australia – and in a pre-COVID world, a staggering number of the biggest names internationally – but there are so many other benefits; the ‘hidden surprise’ recitals by those one may have been unaware of, catching up with old and new friends in the guitar community, meeting instrument makers from around the country, and of course hearing young talent as part of masterclasses and the competition. Over the years Australia has been host to so many world class Guitar Festivals – Darwin, Newcastle,  Melbourne spring to mind – but 2021 must see the Adelaide Guitar Festival as the longest running in Australia, certainly in our time.

Have you worked with Andrew Blanch before?

We’ve had a long and happy friendship with Andrew for over a decade, having met him before he began his formal studies at the ANU School of Music, and having watched his career and playing grow. Members of the MGQ were on the adjudication panel for what we believe was amongst his earliest major competition wins during the 2016 Melbourne Guitar Festival. His solo performances are out of this world and his recent disc Alchemy with fellow guitarist Ariel Nurhadi for ABC Classic is sensational – so you could say MGQ are big fans of Andrew’s playing! We haven’t formally collaborated together aside from a late night session after his aforementioned competition win, but that may be a story for another time…!

You are special guests at the festival’s Winter School. What does that role involve? Will you perform and will you teach?

Yes that’s right! We are greatly looking forward to this as we’ll get to work again with our old friends Paul Svoboda and Giuseppe Zangari again as we help to prepare their large ensemble. We envisage helping out during ‘sectional’ rehearsals but as active tutors for the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School we are happy to assist the festival’s Winter School in any way we can.

The Adelaide Guitar Festival will take place at Adelaide Festival Centre, 4 – 25 July. It will also tour to regional towns including dates in May.

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