During the first week of June, eight of the world's finest young performing artists on the guitar will be traveling to Buffalo, to participate in the sixth biennial JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition.
The competition which has won fame and respect throughout the classical music world. It is to guitarists what the Van Cliburn Competition is for pianists or the Paganini Competition is for violinists. It is the summit of all competitions.
The competition was the first to involve performing whole concertos, with the accompaniment of a major symphony orchestra rather than solo performances. It was founded jointly by PBS Radio and Television stations WNED and the Buffalo Philharmonic. It honors JoAnn Falletta. the much-revered Music Director of the BPO, who is a concert-level soloist on guitar, in addition to her conducting.
The judges and artistic directors of the JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition are, left to right, Joanne Castellani and Michael Andriaccio along with JoAnn Falletta.
There is always a bit of controversy about artistic competitions. In a foot race, the person who first touches the tape at the finish line is the winner. In a music competition, is it more important to be technically perfect or to give an interpretation of the composer's creation which moves and delights an audience? Is a performer who can play intricate passages at lightning speed more or less successful than one who can wring pathos from notes on a page?
At any given moment, there are programmers at work around the world. They are responsible to hire artists to perform in concert spaces and with orchestras. They need to consider the tastes of the audiences who they hope will buy tickets to hear the artists they hire. They must weigh the budget which they have to spend with the understanding that typically more famous artists expect to earn more money, while less famous artists typically attract fewer ticket buyers.
Even the most successful programmer - no matter how much he travels or how successfully he networks with other programmers who can advise him on who is available and who has qualities as a performer which will attract more ticket buyers, and who will leave audience members with the feeling that they have experienced something special, a feeling which will make them more likely to buy tickets again to future seasons - is unaware of more artists than he is aware.
Competitions are opportunities for young performers at the beginning of their careers to acquire the testimony of the competition's judges that they are special as artists. The winners of competitions aren't necessarily ''better'' artists than non-winners, but they have convinced a panel of highly-respected judges that they have slightly more to offer than their competitors. The programmer who hires a Falletta Competition winner to perform has the opinions of seven of the top artists in the world that this person can provide a high quality performance.
Hundreds of performers around the world have made and submitted CDs of themselves performing their choice of one of nine classical concertos. Over the past few months, the judges have listened to all these performances and have gradually selected the eight competitors who will journey to Buffalo for the competition.
Semifinalist competitors are eligible to be hired to perform concerts all over the city of Buffalo on June 6, which is called ''Guitar Day.'' Those performances provide visibility and experience, and may attract some reviews. The two evenings of semifinal competition are broadcast on WNED channel 17, and also on WNED radio, 94.5 FM, as well as on WJTN radio in Jamestown, 89.7 FM, and on the WNED website to listeners all around the world. In 2012, one of the Guitar Day performances took place at Chautauqua Institution. Sadly for us, all eight performances in 2014 will be in Buffalo or in the suburbs of Williamsville, Clarence or Orchard Park.
The three finalists in the competition will win the right to perform an entire concerto with the Buffalo Philharmonic under the direction of JoAnn Falletta. In addition to the judging, those performances will be reviewed by professional critics, whose reviews can be submitted with proposals which the finalists will submit to those programmers who can hire them to perform ... or not.
The winner of that finals round will receive $10,000 in cash, plus a contract to perform a solo performance in Milan, Italy, plus another contract to perform at New York City's Carnegie Hall, plus additional contracts to perform an additional concert accompanied by the BPO, plus one to perform with the Virginia Symphony, and yet another to perform in Texas at the Round Top Music Festival.
Additional prizes include a crystal trophy, a concert-quality guitar and a recording contract. Little wonder that young guitarists all over the world have filled out the applications and prepared compact discs of themselves performing, hoping to receive the summons to Buffalo to perform during early June.
In addition to the over-all winner of the competition, at the end of the finals competition, an audience favorite performer will be selected and members of the orchestra will be asked to name a musicians' favorite performer.
An opening reception for all competitors in the Falletta Competition will take place on June 3 from 4-6 p.m. at the Filling Station, Larkin Square in Buffalo.
Semifinal competitions will take place in the studios of WNED at 7:30 p.m., June 4 and 5. Four semifinalists will perform each evening. Tickets to each of those performances cost $12 and may be purchased at www.bpo.org, or by phoning 885-5000. Each performer may perform one of the required concertos, plus an eight minute piece of their own selection.
The finals round of competition will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Kleinhans Music Hall with the three successful competitors performing three of the official concertos with the BPO and Falletta. Being a guitarist herself, she is especially aware of the requirements of the guitar in performing with the dozens of instruments of the whole orchestra, and to perform with her on the podium is greatly prized by guitarists. Each competitor may also perform a work of his choice, lasting up to five minutes, which will not be scored by the judges but which could demonstrate a particular talent not emphasized by the required works.
On June 6, the finalists are at Kleinhans rehearsing with the orchestra. The semi-finalists are then free to travel to the following sites to give ''Guitar Day'' concerts. All of these performances are free of charge and all but one are open to the public:
Women and Children's Hospital, 291 Bryant St., Buffalo, from 10:30-11 a.m.
Larkin Square, 745 Seneca St., Buffalo, from noon to 1 p.m.
Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy, 300 South Elmwood Ave., Buffalo, from noon to 1 p.m.
Holy Cross Church, 345 Seventh St., Buffalo, from 1-2 p.m.
Atrium, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Elm and Carlton Streets, Buffalo, from 1-2 p.m.
Park Creek Senior Living Center, 410 Mill St., Williamsville, from 1:30-2:30 p.m.
Sisters of St. Joseph Residence, 4975 Strickler Road, Clarence, from 3-4 p.m.
Fox Run at Orchard Park, 1 Fox Run Lane, Orchard Park, from 3:30-4 p.m.
Canisius High School, 180 Delaware Ave., Buffalo, from 4-5 p.m.
Veteran's Hospital, ADHC. This concert is not open to the public.
Tickets to the finals round of competition range in price from $41 to $76, and also may be purchased at the box office of Kleinhans, plus at www.bpo.org, or at 885-5000.
Chad Ibison of the United States has won a number of solo guitar competitions and was a semifinalist in the 2012 Falletta Competition. He is pursuing his doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin where he is a teaching assistant.
Sanel Redzic is a native of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who currently lives in Germany. He has performed more than 1,000 concerts in southern and central Europe, and has recorded for ''Gramofon'' from Sarajevo. He was a semifinalist in the 2012 Falletta Competition.
You Wang of China has won a number of individual guitar competitions and has received a scholarship to study at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.
Laura Klemke of Germany has won many prizes at international competitions and has performed more than 500 times on radio and TV broadcasts. She has released three CDs.
Marcin Kuzniar of Poland has won many individual competitions and has performed as a soloist with three symphony orchestras in Ukraine and central Europe.
Dan Alexandru Arhire of Romania has a resume of more than 70 solo performances, and is artistic director of the IASI Guitar Festival. He has made professional recordings and is pursuing a doctorate degree in his native country.
Ekachai Jearakul of Thailand was one of the three finalists in the 2012 Falletta Competition. He has performed solo concertos around the world and performs with orchestras in Thailand, Ukraine, Mexico, and the U.S.
Marko Topchii is a native of Ukraine who is pursuing a doctorate at the Tchaikovsky National Academy of Music in Kiev, where he has been named an Honored Artist of Ukraine. He has won more than 50 awards, including 18 first place awards in competitions in 11 countries.
These are talented young people.
Faced with the difficult decision to choose the winner from these talented competitors, will be these esteemed judges:
Michael Andriaccio and Joanne Castellani of Buffalo who are also the Artistic Directors of the Falletta Competition. They perform as the Castellani Andriaccio Duo, guitar performers who have performed as soloists at the White House, Kennedy Center, and with orchestras all over the world, including many performances in the Chautauqua Amphitheater. The two have taught at more than 100 colleges, universities, and conservatories, around the world, and have made 10 professional recordings, two of which were named ''Best of the Year,'' by Fanfare Magazine.
They have inspired two new concertos for two guitars by composer Roberto Sierra and one by Michael Colina, which they recorded with the London Philharmonic. They are the founders of Fleur de Son Classics, a record label which is recognized as a leader in recorded chamber music.
The Amadeus Guitar Duo is made up of Dale Kavanagh of Canada and Thomas Kirchoff of Germany. They have recorded 12 professional recordings, and have performed regularly on national and international television in Europe. They perform frequently both as soloists and as a duo, individually and with orchestras around the world.
Micaela Pittaluga, of Italy is the daughter of Michele Pittaluga, founder of the Allessandria International Guitar Competition, and is now the president of that competition, which grants awards both for performing and for composing music for the guitar. For many years, she was the president of the board of directors at the Vivaldi Conservatorio of Music in Allessandria, and is a promoter and artistic director of a number of musical events.
David Ostenberg is an afternoon host, music director and producer of the popular Saturday afternoon program ''Cadenza'' on WWFM, the classical music radio station of New York City.
Ana Vidovic of Croatia is a recording artist who has performed more than 1,000 concerts as a soloist and with orchestras in the major cities of three continents. Following extensive study in her native Croatia, she was invited to study at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore where she graduated in 2005.
This information gives readers many opportunities, from watching and listening to competitors on television or on the radio, to travelling to Buffalo for one of the free concerts by the semifinalists on Guitar Day, to buying tickets to the semifinals and/or the finals.
One of the challenges for a small town arts lover is that one has little to compare with live performances within one's reach. The Falletta Competition provides a yardstick against which we can measure excellence. If the exact competition were in Spain, for example, people would invest a fortune in travelling to hear it. Instead, it's in Buffalo. What an opportunity.