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BWW Review: ADELAIDE INTERNATIONAL GUITAR FESTIVAL 2019 - THE GATHERING at Elder Hall, University Of AdelaideReviewed by Barry Lenny, Friday 19th July 2019.

The Gathering is the culmination of a weeklong Winter School, a chance for the many graduating participants to show what they have achieved in that time. The evening began impressively, with The Adelaide Guitar Festival Orchestra, over a hundred guitarists on stage, conducted by the Director of the Winter School, the very popular and dynamic, Dr. Paul Svoboda.

Dr. Svoboda had some exceptional assistance from the other 'classical' guitar tutors: Guiseppe Zangari, Andras Tuske, Karin Schaupp, and, of course, the Festival's Artistic Director, Slava Grigoryan. The tutors also sat in with the full orchestra, adding their support. The hard-working Dr. Svoboda was also responsible for writing the many arrangements and for contributing some of his own compositions.

The orchestra opened with three works, the first being the José María Cano's Hijo de la Luna (The Son of the Moon), and the last, an arrangement of Toto's Africa, proving particularly popular. The orchestra combined all of the evening's performers, and this was followed by subsets. The South Australian Youth Guitar Ensemble was next to perform, with a Tarantella, played with admirable clarity.

The Elder Conservatorium Guitar Ensemble, students from the Elder Conservatorium of Music at the University of Adelaide, performed an arrangement of the traditional song, Pick a Bale o' Cotton, with reference made to blues and folk musician, Huddie William 'Lead Belly' Ledbetter, who was a master of the 12-string guitar as well as playing a range of other instruments, and also a powerful voiced singer and songwriter. The performance developed from a percussive introduction, adding a bass line, and thence into a full-blown ensemble piece.

Some members of the ensemble departed, leaving The Opal Guitar Quartet to play the first movement of Richard Charlton's Guitar Quartet No. 7, Stoneworks, movement No. 1, Stones of light: sapphire blue, diamond white! This very advanced work was written in 2002 for the Australian Guitar Quartet, commissioned for their sensational CD, Saffire. Slava Grigoryan and Karin Schaupp were members of that quartet and, I am sure that they would have been impressed with this fine rendition.

The four tutors, with Dr. Svoboda on bass guitar, had a chance to perform, showing what good fortune the students had in having such talented musicians, all at the top of their professions, from whom to learn. Orbit, composed by his daughter, bassist, Helen Svoboda, for jazz trio, was arranged by Dr. Svoboda for the group. It was a complex piece with a strongly emotive thematic structure and a memorable finish to the first part of the concert.

As a taste of what was to come, Cal Williams Jnr. and Jeff Lang joined them for an Irish language song, often played as an instrumental slow air, Gleanntan Glas Ghaoth Dobair (The Green Glens of Gweedore), a tribute to the Irish speaking district in County Donegal, on the Atlantic coast. This gave rise to a fascinating blend of styles, and some impressive solos.

This year, there was a new section in the teaching programme and it was represented in this concert, featuring the Winter School Blues & Roots students who opened the second half of the evening. That part of the proceedings was directed by Cal Williams Jnr. He will shortly be appearing in a concert with Jeff Lang, who was the senior tutor for this group. Again, these two were assisted by more superb tutors in Chris Finnen and Jen Lush, the latter working with the students on lyric writing.

Lang and Williams each had a chance to play solo, and joined, together with Lush, later in the evening, and Lang also sat in with the students. A sizeable group of performers appeared in this section, with two separate ensembles within the group. This section, naturally, included vocals, as well as work written by students. There were also a good selection of short guitar solos, demonstrating the range of styles within the genre.

Jeff Lang next performed a stunning solo number, then Williams and Lang, with Lush on vocals, joined together for the Bob Dylan song, I Shall be Released, in which the first two showed their incredible guitar techniques.

The entire orchestra took to the stage once again with three numbers to close the concert, starting with Under the Sea, from the film, The Little Mermaid, followed by a medley of lutenist John Dowland's (1563-1626) Queen Elizabeth's Galliard (The Most Sacred Queen Elizabeth, Her Galliard) and Dr. Svoboda's Goodnight Mr. Dowland, and ending with his Celtic Mash, a medley of Celtic tunes.

One more Spanish influenced number followed, showing, once more, the versatility of these musicians, the closing section of the evening drawing plenty of applause from the appreciative audience, who still hadn't had enough, staying seated after this final number in the vain hope of another encore.

This was a marvellous evening of music and a fine chance to see so many emerging guitarists, playing in a wide variety of genres. The Arts are alive and well in Adelaide and Slava Grigoryan has again brought us another superb Guitar Festival.

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