The month of June is host to multiple wonderful music festivals here in Boston. Recently, world-renowned guitarist Eliot Fisk discussed his brainchild and increasingly successful Boston Guitarfest, now in its sixth year, which runs from June 15-19. This year’s theme is “Bell’ Italia,” largely in celebration of master guitarist Oscar Ghiglia, with whom Fisk studied and who will be performing and giving several master classes. The festival’s concert programming is eclectic and engaging yet very much connected to the overall “Italian” theme. (The Guitarfest website has biographies of all of the performers named in this article)
Fisk’s vision for the festival — and for music in general — is one of cross-disciplinary dialogue. He views the guitar as a symbol of the interconnectedness of musical traditions. “It relates to everything!” he notes enthusiastically. “It is the most prominent folk instrument in the world, yet it has the oldest published tradition,… an ability to traverse the centuries. Almost every culture on earth has some sort of plucked instrument.” He also highlighted the cross-cultural coexistence of Islamic and Spanish elements in music, architecture, etc., and how they all manifest in the guitar as an instrument, as well as repertoire such as the danza mora, in which flamenco and Arabic influences intersect.
Fisk also strongly desires more local and “lateral” participation between organizations. He notes that the Guitarfest attracts many international participants but would like to see more active participation from local guitarists and their supporting institutions. While he regrets the isolationism of some arts organizations in Boston, he recognized the support he has received from several donors and local academic institutions, namely New England Conservatory and Northeastern University.
Most of the performers are, like Fisk, former students and disciples of Ghiglia. Concerts will feature a fascinating array of styles and repertoire, and not just for guitar. The first concert on Wednesday, June 15, features the 2010 Guitarfest Competition Winner Artyom Dervoed in the first half, and the second half will be devoted to Italian/Italianate Baroque harpsichord music (including Bach’s Italian Concerto) played by John Gibbons. Gibbons, who is on the faculty at NEC and directs the Bach Ensemble, will also be giving a seminar on Baroque performance practice the following day. In addition to Gibbons’s seminar, Dr. Hilary Poriss of Northeastern University will be delivering a lecture on Saturday on the direct relationship of Italian opera to guitar repertoire. The festival also includes a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts instrument collection and a visit to the North End to absorb Italian culture à la Boston.
On Thursday, June 16, the Newman-Oltman Duo (both former students of Ghiglia who run their own New York guitar festival in July) will perform works by Rossini, Leo Brouwer, and a world premiere of a work by Brazilian composer Arthur Kampela. On the same program, Fisk and electric guitar player Jude Gold will premiere a work written for this year’s festival by composer Anthony De Ritis, who, Fisk noted, has been a “wise, guiding force” for the festival since 2000.
Two concerts will be featured on Friday, June 17. At 4 pm, guitarist and Northeastern faculty member Robert Ward will play Liszt’s transcriptions of the Paganini Caprices (in turn transcribed for guitar by Fisk) as well as works by lesser-known modern composers Salvatore Sciarrino (b. 1947) and Franco Donatoni (1927-2000).
At 7:30 pm, Scott Borg and the Boston Guitar Orchestra will present a brief performance, immediately followed by the 8 pm concert. Borg, a native Australian who received his DMA from NEC, founded the BGO, a community-based amateur ensemble. In our interview, Fisk underscored the importance of aficionados and amateur music makers as a large and fundamental part of the audience for guitar music and feels “participatory audiences” are crucial to the survival of music performance.
The 8 pm concert begins with guitarist/lutenist Richard Savino and Ensemble El Mundo, which he co-directs, in a concert of Baroque music. The second half of the concert will feature guitarist Adam Holzman playing later Italian repertoire from the 19th century, including works by composers Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829), Ferdinando Carulli (1770-1841) and Luigi Legnani (1790-1877).
Saturday night’s concert on June 18 presents Eliot Fisk, Zaira Meneses, members from A Far Cry string orchestra, and Ghiglia in a wide-ranging and exciting program from Vivaldi’s Double Concerto (originally for two mandolins and strings), to Luciano Berio’s Sequenza XI for solo guitar, a work written for and dedicated to Fisk.
Fisk hopes that the festival will generate a real “open-door feeling” here in Boston. He also wants to foster opportunities for young American musicians: “In a very materialistic society, if they don’t happen to hit a jackpot early in their career, they face a tough and important battle. … Rather than curse the darkness, I want to light a candle of widening concentric circles, starting with my own group of students struggling to make a living. … I’ve been mentoring them for 35 years. …The Guitarfest is a chance for [them] to learn the business side … there aren’t many jobs students have to graduate into entrepreneurship. I want to light a candle for my students in that way.
“Boston is a city with so much unrealized potential. I’m trying to do my bit …. what would be a real victory is to get many different people to collaborate for the common good.”
Fisk’s inspired vision is indeed one that should be shared by arts producers, administrators and consumers. Boston has no dearth of performing arts organizations, but the competitive model is hitting a brick wall, especially in these economic times. Collaboration is becoming increasingly more common, and when done well, can be mutually beneficial artistically and financially. Boston’s artistic riches are too bountiful to promote isolationism; one hopes for more events like Guitarfest that welcome a diverse audience and leap out of imposed cultural boxes.
The festival is designed to accommodate those who may only wish to participate in one day’s events or have other restrictions, financial or otherwise; for a full schedule and to purchase tickets, please see the Boston Guitarfest.