Annual Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival Returns to the Cleveland Institute of Music

Fri 6/8-Sun 6/10

We can thank The Simpsons for providing the mainstream with its one classical guitar touchstone, Mason Williams “Classical Gas.” For those folks who want to learn more about the discriminating genre, the Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival returns for its 18thannual affair at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

This year’s event features 13 artists and ensembles performing five concerts, two world premiere performances, nine master classes and other events. Among the performing artists are Grammy Award-winner and Cleveland Institute of Music Guitar department head Jason Vieaux, Ricardo Gallén (Spain), Duo Melis (Spain & Greece), Antonis Hatzinikolaou (Greece) and more.

CoolCleveland talked to Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival artistic director Armin Kelly.

CoolCleveland: How cool is it that Cleveland has its own Classical Guitar Festival? Tell us about the annual event.

Armin Kelly: Classical guitar is classical music, which is played on the acoustic guitar. Probably most people would be familiar with the Spanish guitar, although these days players are not limited to Spain. The players are from all over the world. They’re among the world’s finest. We’re very proud of that. They convene here at the Cleveland Institute of Music, which is the entity we work with, although Guitars International is the actual presenter.

CC: What’s interesting is the notion of Spanish guitar playing conjures up thoughts of flamenco.

AK: This would not be flamenco. That’s another genre, but the instruments might look a little similar. Andrés Segovia is probably the most widely known advocate of classical guitar. Although he passed away in the ’80s, it’s blossomed and bloomed. There are classical guitarists in virtually every country in the world, including the United States. And this is an international event. It’s not just a local event.

CC: What kind of repertoire are we talking about?

AK: They could be playing Bach, German Baroque and even great English contemporary composer Benjamin Britten.

CC: Just to confirm, the Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival doesn’t have a competition component?

AK: We purposely do not have a competition. That brings in a whole different vibe. We try to keep it a very congenial environment. It’s a coming-together as far as the people who are performing and teaching. It’s a gathering of experts sharing their art and their knowledge. We have what are referred to as master classes open to the public that are sprinkled through the weekend.

CC: Even though the Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival is nearly two decades old, are music fans still discovering the event?

AK: Oh, yeah, definitely. I want to emphasize most of our audience comes from Northeast Ohio area. However, we’ve had people from 30 different states, as far away as California, Maine, Texas, Florida. Also, we have people every year coming down from Canada to attend. The artists themselves are from all over the world, including Czech Republic, Spain, Greece and England.

CC: Correct me if I’m wrong, but on the surface it would seem rock ’n’ roll fans may feel classical guitar music is too, well, highbrow, while classical music enthusiasts don’t associate the instrument with classical repertoire. Is this a common hurdle the Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival faces?

AK: I wouldn’t put it as an iron clad hurdle because many classical guitarists, for instance, maybe had a rock ’n’ roll background but discovered classical guitar and that became their passion. We have lots of people who come to our festival who don’t play classical guitar. This is not just a specialized convention for classical guitars. Most of our audience are not classical guitarists, they just love the artists, love the sound. There will be great diversity amongst the different programs that artists are playing, a diversity within each artist program and diversity from artist to artist. Another thing that might be fun is before two of the afternoon concerts, Saturday and Sunday, we have students playing solo and ensemble pieces in the lobby of Cleveland Institute of Music. That’s turned out to be quite popular. It’s not formal, not onstage, but people just love seeing and hearing the kids play.

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