Review by Larry Aynesmith, Sierra Nevada Guitar Society











I attended the GFA Convention [PHOTOS 1] in October of 2005. My friend Stephen Aron of Oberlin Conservatory did a wonderful job of organizing a significant festival. There were a lot of big name players there, and you could see the talent and why they had big names. However, they must have been nervous playing in front of each other. There were a few wrong notes and clinkers just like the rest of us humans have been known to plonk.

Raphaella Smits [PHOTOS 1 | 2 ] played an 8-string. It sounded like a normal fine guitar to me, just an extra bass note here and there. She performed a quite significant new work called Saeta by the Flemish composer Wim Hendrickx. This was a wonderful performance. The Bach Chaconne didn't go quite as well. I liked her performance on a period 1827 Mirecourt 6-string guitar better, featuring works by Mertz, Legnani and Schubert.

Stanley Yates [PHOTOS 1 | 2 ] performed a concert on a Russian 7-string guitar owned by my friend Matanya Ophee. Yates' performance of the Sor Fantasie Elegaique on this guitar was one of the best things I have ever heard. It was performed with near perfect tempo and taste. The Russian 7- string has a quality I can only describe as pungent, but I don't know if that communicates much to anyone who hasn't heard one. The standard tuning for a Russian 7-string is DGBEGBE. The other pieces on Yates' program were not up to the level of the Sor in my opinion, but the Sor was memorable. A couple pieces by the Russian composer Andrei Sychra written for 7-string guitar were performed.

Robert Barto [PHOTOS 1] performed on lute. I have seen a lot of well-known lutenists. Barto is perhaps the best technical lute player I have ever seen, musical too. His lute sounds as loud as a concert guitar, and actually stays in tune for the most part.

If you really want to get into multistrings, they had Niibori Ensemble, a Japanese guitar orchestra of about 40 guitars, all playing in perfect synchrony, down to the physical movements of each player.

Paul Galbraith [PHOTOS 1 | 2] performed. I have seen him before. I have the greatest respect for Galbraith's quite expansive musical knowledge, and he is worth listening to for his taste and knowledgeable performances. I am just not sold on all the contraptions he uses though, the "cello" bar, the bass box, the 8-strings, the slanted frets, the jet-fighter seating. Even with all that, he amplified, when the 6-stringers did not. He's trying to make a perfect guitar. Problem is, if you go too far perfecting a guitar you get something that doesn't sound like a guitar anymore, in my opinion. But by all means see him play and judge for yourself.

Dominic Frasca [PHOTOS 1 | ARTICLE | MP4 MOVIE 1] is a phenomenal creative talent. Every guitarist should see him. He composes in a minimalist vein, but it sounds human, it has to, on guitar. He uses a modified 10-string with both steel and nylon strings. Yet he also plays 6-string. I was amazed to see that his most significant and complex composition, Deviations, was written for and performed on a 6-string. Just listening to the CD, I thought it was a 10-string. Frasca does a lot of percussion on guitar too, often with the aid of midi/computer devices. Frasca makes music of this age. Nothing has turned my head around so much on guitar since I was a teenager and I heard John McLaughlin's "Dance of Maya." In both cases, it made me think it's still worth hanging around this sweet swingin' sphere to hear something that interesting. Frasca doesn't give a shit about convention either, he tells some off-color jokes and stuff during his performance.

Other highlights included Manuel Barrueco. He exhibited some of the most refined, elegant and effective playing I have ever heard in pieces by Piazzolla, Granados and a transcription of a Chick Corea tune. I didn't like some of his other interpretations quite as much. The Hanser-McLellan Duo was terrific. There were worthwhile workshops on reducing performance anxiety and other topics. All the other performers had good spots too. A Canadian guy with a wonderful beard won the competition, Jerome Ducharme. He played with consistency and intensity yet evenness, nudging out the better known Polish player Marcin Dylla. Marcin could have easily won but it was close.

Next year the GFA will be held near Atlanta. There is talk of me bringing GFA to Tahoe in 2007, but I don't think it will happen because we don't have a top-notch performance and convention facilty here and won't for at least four years.

Larry Aynesmith
Sierra Nevada Guitar Society

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