Guitar Festival Comes to Campus

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By Shannon Miller

Assistant News Editor

The 27th Long Island Guitar Festival will return to campus from April 9 to 14. The event, presented by the Department of Music, will showcase distinguished guitarists in the classical and jazz genres, as well as a national high school guitar competition. Scheduled concerts, masterclasses and workshops will be held in the Tilles Center, the Interfaith Chapel, Krasnoff Theater, Hillwood Cinema, Winnick Great Hall, the Music Rehearsal Building, and the Fine Arts Center.

Director of guitar studies and adjunct professor, Harris Becker, initiated the festival back in 1993 to exemplify the music making process. When most of the general public experiences a live concert, they only hear the final outcome to years of practice and dedication, according to Becker. “What I wanted to do was focus on the process,” he said. It was his way of “creating more awareness to the art of music making.

”The festival began as a one-day event dedicated to the guitar. Since then, it has grown to celebrate exceptional guitarists from around the world. Each year the Guitar Festival includes at least one premiere performance. This year, acclaimed guitarist, Laura Snowden from the U.K., will make her U.S. debut. “She is one of the many exciting and gifted young performers in the guitar world today,” James Erickson, adjunct professor of guitar and the festival’s assistant director, said.

Laura Snowden playing at Wigmore Hall in London

Snowden decided to pick up a guitar at 8 years-old after her love of writing and singing pop-music ended. “The Spice Girls broke up. I was pretty heartbroken,” she said. “The only logical solution was to bury my sorrows in the classical guitar.” At 16, she received a scholarship from The Rolling Stones, a British rock band, to study at the Yehudi Menuhin School located just outside of London.

She went on to attend the Royal College of Music. She has performed in major venues such as Wigmore Hall, Royal Albert Hall, and at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater as part of a series run by guitarist John Williams. Her invitation to attend the Long Island festival is her first stop in a series of concerts in America.

Artists such as Snowden, will engage with aspiring guitarists from the campus and the community in a series of scheduled master classes. Erickson will lead a workshop on theory and technique for the contemporary rock guitarist; public forum lessons are a unique opportunity to work one-on-one with a world-class performer. “The student usually performs a prepared piece of music and then gets feedback and instruction from the artist,” he said. Robert Trent, a classical guitarist, will also teaching a workshop on nineteenth-century performance practices.

A festival highlight is the National High School Classical Guitar Competition on April 12 and 13. This portion of the event is open to young guitarists attending private or public school within the 50 states. The final round, consisting of three finalists, is open to the public, according to Erickson. The first prize winner receives $500 and an opportunity to perform at the 2020 festival. The second place winner will receive $200, and all competitors are awarded accessories and strings donated by guitar accessory manufacturers. Last year’s winners, Eliza Balmuth and Everett Shen, will perform a concert together during the “Emerging Artists Series” at this year’s festival.

Shen began experimenting with the acoustic guitar when he was 12 years-old because he dreamed of being in a band. He switched to the classical genre when he was offered the opportunity to study with a renowned guitarist, according to Shen. During last year’s competition, he was a senior in high school, while in his last year to compete in the festival’s high school division. “I’d spent months preparing for the competition and it felt great to have such hard work pay off,” he said. He now studies at Princeton University.

Balmuth, who is a freshman at the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College studying comparative literature and classical guitar performance, began playing when she was 8. According to the artist, she enjoys: “exploring the inspirations, stories, and cultural context behind nineteenth-century music and trying to convey these nuances on the guitar.” She’s inspired by Snowden’s musicianship.

Snowden is fond of Balmuth as well. “I was excited to see that Eliza Balmuth will be playing,” Snowden said. “She’s a terrific young player who I met at the Volterra Project in Italy last year.” The Volterra Project is an innovative experiment in classical guitar training help-ing young guitarists become well-rounded and non-competitive performers.

Some music majors will perform and assist in some of the presented workshops. Others will carry out administrative tasks and stage management. “There are also many LIU alumni returning to perform, myself included,” said Erickson. “While most of the participants in the master classes and workshops are guitarists, our concerts are attended by a broad range of musicians and non-musicians who love the eclectic diversity of our performers.” Becker is proud of the international recognition the festival has received. “We have kept the focus on the music which has given many people much pleasure; it’s culture that connects us,” he said.

For guitar enthusiasts, the best bet is to purchase a festival pass that grants access for the weekend. Single event tickets are also available through the Tilles Center box office and liu.edu/gfest. Students with a valid LIU ID can attend free of charge. Vendors displaying guitars, sheet music and accessories will line up in the lobby of Hillwood Commons during the event. “We are also set up right next to Starbucks. Grab a latte and come hear some great music,” Erickson said

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