Established in 2007 as a celebration of ‘the world’s most popular and accessible instrument’, the annual Adelaide Guitar Festival has become an essential fixture of Adelaide’s abundant music scene, and its artistic director, internationally renowned guitarist Slava Grigoryan, has become a household name for his popularisation of the instrument and the many styles of music that can be performed on it. 

Guitarist Slava Grigoryan and cellist Sharon Grigoryan. Photo © Simon Shiff.

COVID-19 forced the shelving of the 2020 Guitar Festival, and, while this year’s has gone ahead, it has again been affected — the much anticipated concert featuring the Melbourne Guitar Quartet and Andrew Blanch had to be cancelled at the last minute as the performers were unable to enter South Australia. In place of that concert, a variety of Adelaide-based performers were brought together to stage a concert that amounted to a mini festival, offering teasing samples of the full-length concerts the Adelaide Guitar Festival offers. This concert, suitably entitled ‘A Classical Celebration’, comprised five short performances demonstrating the increasingly wide variety of the classical guitar repertoire and the ability of Adelaide’s many fine guitarists. Instant pivoting and innovation are essential to survival in the arts in this virus-wracked world.

The concert opened with a performance by the Adelaide Guitar Festival Orchestra, 54 guitar students, including a bass player, ranging in age from 9 to 84 and conducted here by Lincoln Brady and Andras Tuske. Since 2014, guitarist and teacher Paul Svoboda has directed the classical guitar orchestra component of the week-long Adelaide Guitar Winter School, which has become a feature of Adelaide Guitar Festivals, and the Orchestra’s five light-hearted works were all composed or arranged by Svoboda for this ensemble. The impact of the Festival in inspiring people of all ages to take up the guitar seems evident.

Lecturer in guitar at Adelaide University’s Elder Conservatorium, and one of the country’s finest guitarists, Oliver Fartach-Naini followed with a delightful performance of two works by Adelaide composer Ian Seaborn, both with a strongly Brazilian flavour and a quietly meditative feel. Alain Vãlodze and Mike Bevan, who frequently work as a duo, then presented five pieces that convey the flavours not only of Brazil, but also jazz, flamenco and other musical influences. This was entrancing work, the two coordinating wonderfully, with a shared musical sensibility. Highlights were the Ralph Towner work Icarus and Vãlodze’s own composition Guajira. 

Irish guitarist, composer and luthier Manus Noble gave us three exquisite pieces that demonstrated his capacity for arrangement and innovative playing techniques. Beginning with Sakura: Theme and Variations by Yuquijiro Yocoh, Noble captured the sound of the Japanese koto in a hypnotically beautiful arrangement that blends the grace of Japanese music with the character of classical and flamenco styles and techniques of rapid fingering. Noble’s second work was Scottish composer Neil Gow’s Lament for the Death of his Second Wife, a work which evokes traditional Scottish folk tunes, and his third was Gary Ryan’s Railroad – Scenes from the Wild West, which conveys the flavour of American country guitar, thus epitomising three different musical cultures in one short program. 

The final element of the concert was a performance by the Festival’s artistic director, Slava Grigoryan himself, with his wife, cellist Sharon Grigoryan. They have made the guitar-cello duo a feature of their work and thus brought to light a range of compositions either written for or arranged for that combination of instruments. Their all-too-brief performance included Mark Summer’s Julie-O arranged by Grigoryan and suggesting a happy conversation between two voices, Mário João Laginha’s Tanto Espaço and the third movement of Jaime Zenamon’s suite Reflexões. Sharon Grigoryan’s gorgeous cello playing blended perfectly with Slava’s accomplished guitar. Inviting Manus Noble back to the stage, they then gave us an encore, the mellifluous Ave Maria by Astor Piazzolla, with Slava Grigoryan’s skills as an arranger coming to the fore. Each of the mini recitals in this concert offered a seductive taste of the music that might be heard in a full recital, leaving the audience wanting more.

The Adelaide Guitar Festival incorporates the Adelaide International Classical Guitar Competition, and this has also been moved to an online format due to travel restrictions. Competition videos are to be posted online from 20 July.