Among the outstanding classical concerts livestreamed during 2020, one project deserves a gold medal for a mighty achievement. Without funding, without decades of established high end concert venues and media accolades, since 2014 the Melbourne Guitar Festival has celebrated the artistry, the composers, the history of music and the world-class technical skills and achievements of fine Australian solo classical guitarists.
Michael McManus, event director and guitarist devised an immensely creative alternative following the cancellation of the three-day September festival. Since March 2020, he not only scheduled 37 classical guitarists from around the world to participate in weekly or fortnightly livestream concerts, but added an array of stimulating, practical tutorials and weekend workshops led by highly experienced specialists.
Melbourne performer, educator and author Dr Daniel Nistico, who specialises in the performance of 18th and 19th Century guitar music, has also focussed on the guitar in chamber music, the promotion of rare works, and teaching composition courses. From the 3 to 4 week courses held on-line this year, the results were well beyond expectations, resulting in a large folio of original pieces being ready to be performed in concert by the good Doctor himself in a remarkable concert program. A few participants were pianists, nearly all were attempting guitar composition for the first time, and the organisers expected 8 to 16 bar melodies to be produced. Using the popular Baroque forms, studies, dances, Latin and Spanish classical structures were the guiding models for first time composers, with the focus on using one or two melodies in higher or lower registers for variation. The advanced course encouraged participants to explore a larger, more complex harmonic fabric in traditional forms, and the use of guitar effects and playing techniques, and to compose more evocative pieces, many with a story behind them.
Daniel Nistico is a magnificent guitarist, and in the Livechat following the concert, one participant remarked how fantastic it was to hear how their music could be communicated. With many pieces performed, not all can be mentioned here as there was such an abundance of fine lyrical melodies.
The opening Waltz For Jennifer (Nigel Jones) in standard folk song form, was an extremely lovely, mature, and gorgeous lyrical melody. Secret Mirror (Greg Smart) began with elements of Middle Eastern flavours, then travelled further West with freer Flamenco colours. The pieceby Rick Alexander, Solace, explored gentle, spacious and sensitive lines in the minor key, while Prelude -Beaux Jours (Kevin Toller) was a strong folk melody with attitude added by an active walking bass. This was a super short piece. Daniel Vila-Domini created a very substantial picture of The Butterfly, from its metamorphosis through many interesting chordal sequences changing timbres with hand/palm dampening effects and harmonics, and increased scurrying and fluttering away as it matured.
Dr Nistico was full of praise for the many four-page works produced. In his ambitious work, The Sleepers,Daniel Armstrong established a thoughtful introduction using all harmonics and overtones in a free form. Suspended melodies over altered chords needing much rubato in the playing, provided varied textural differences. Using traditional structures, Paula Child’s Mazurka Choros reflected a stately 19th Century style, while a stand-out Minuet and Trio with ornamentation and variations, Blossoming, was composed by Ilay Kenes who is 10 years of age!
Inspired by the 17th Century blind Celtic harpist, O’Carolan, Drifting (Cilla Kinross) began in calm waters with nostalgic melodies and idyllic harmonic sequences, and evolved into a stirring yet elegant jig. Quite an epic piece was Tom Chalko’s Theme and Variations, where quite expansive and sophisticated melodies were developed from the influence of Polish folk dances and a hint of flamenco flourishes with challenging technical passages. David Hole excelled with the final story – 2020: From Bushfires to Pandemic, a piece with much depth and firm big chords that developed into creative variations in the accompaniments.
Not only did Dr Daniel Nistico prove his masterly interpretation of the 22 pieces given their first ever hearing, but showed the value of concert artists performing their students’ works.
This whole project was the result of the commitment of Australian classical guitarists inspiring and encouraging original composition, sharing their passion throughout the year in an outstanding 2020 project. We thank them all for the creativity and passion.
Photo courtesy Melbourne Guitar Festival
Julie McErlain reviewed the final guitar workshop concert for the year by Melbourne Guitar Festival, performed by Dr Daniel Nistico, and live streamed on December 12, 2020.