This past week local guitar enthusiasts experienced 'guitar heaven' at the first annual Alexandria Guitar Festival, an event that highlighted the classical guitar.
The classical guitar is strung with nylon strings, played with the fingers instead of a pick and rarely played with an amplifier. It is played without the electronic effects that characterize the rock and roll solid body guitar; thus, it is played at sane volumes and is a versatile instrument that is suitable for classical, jazz, Latin, and religious music.
For a first-year event Nathan Fischer needs to be commended. Not only was Fischer the festival director, he also was the opening performer on Wednesday night. He opened the concert series with a varied program that included a musical tone poem by Augustine Barrios on his impressions of a visit to a cathedral, Six Etudes (studies) in various musical keys, and even a festive Christmas Carol.
Petar Kodzas, who has performed throughout Europe and the eastern United States for Guitar Societies, Cornell University, Chataqua Chamber Music Society, Oklahoma State University and the Elmira Symphony, followed Fischer. He engaged the audience with a selection of waltzes by Enrique Granados.
All of the performances were diverse, interesting, professionally performed, on time and most of all intimate. The Athenaeum provided a warm, parlor like setting for the audience to join and relate with the performers. Larry Snitzler, an Old Town resident, accomplished guitar master, and long time fixture with National Public Radio served as master of ceremonies and provided interesting background on each of the performers.
Snitzler also took the stage himself with a varied and moving performance on Saturday night. The audiences were large, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic with many repeat attendees. What was especially charming was to see a previous nights' performer in the audience enjoying the event and the performance of their associates.
On Thursday, Joseph Mayes (guitar) and Larry Snitzler (narrator) teamed to tell the story of Cinderella. This format, which many associate with the Peter and the Wolf story, allowed the audience to associate musical themes with characters, and hear the dances from the Grande Ball. This was followed by the pairing of John Patykula (guitar) and John Bullard (banjo) performing an arrangement of Four Inventions by J.S. Bach. This duet highlighting the banjo as a classical instrument delighted those in attendance.
The evening ended with a stirring performance of Old Dominion Echoes by the Virginia Commonwealth University Guitar Quartet. In the audience was Frank Mullen III who composed Old Dominion Echoes. This piece that combines traditional spiritual music with Virginia's own Shenandoah was the highlight of the evening.
This was much more than a concert series. This was a four-day festival filled with concerts, classes taught by the performing guitarists, and exhibits of anything guitar: music scores and books, music stands, strings, humidifiers, CDs, VHS training and performance tapes, and guitars for resale.
Guitarists aspiring to become concert masters, or hobbyists looking to improve their skills spent the day at a series of Master Classes taught by the performing Master Guitarists. At these sessions playing technique, style and expression were covered as the Masters passed on the their skills and knowledge to a new generation in the tradition of the renowned guitarist and teacher Andres Segovia.