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Southern Guitar Festival brings world caliber guitarists to Columbia

The Southern Guitar Festival and Competition will be June 7-9 at the Richland Library, 1431 Assembly St.
The Southern Guitar Festival and Competition will be June 7-9 at the Richland Library, 1431 Assembly St. Submitted

Marina Alexandra wanted to showcase some of the best guitar players in Columbia.

For the past eight years, she’s done that with the Southern Guitar Festival and Competition.

The annual event brings world caliber guitarists to Columbia to inspire and educate all music lovers. The multi-day festival offers concerts, workshops, lectures, and an international solo and ensemble competition.

“The Southern Guitar Festival is a free opportunity to watch performances by the world’s best classical and flamenco guitar players,” Alexandra said. “Our festival presents workshops on different guitar styles, such as jazz, funk, rock, and country, taught by individuals such as Bert Ligon (University of South Carolina’s Director of Jazz Studies), Don Russo (co-owner of Freeway Music), and Tariel Iberi (a guitarist and composer from the Republic of Georgia).

“We also have guitar and chamber competitions, open to participants of all ages and styles. This year, we have contestants from all over the country, as well as a few international folks,” Alexandra said. “Our competitions are open to the public, and we invite everyone to come out and watch.”

The guitar competition includes divisions for elementary/middle school, high school, and college/professional level classical guitarists.

This year’s concerts will showcase award-winning musicians from the U.S., Romania, and China. Some of those musicians agreed to share some thoughts.

Silviu Ciulei
Silviu Octavian Ciulei Thomas Yeiser

Meet Silviu Octavian Ciulei

According to Alexandra, Ciulei is “one of the best flamenco guitarists in the U.S.” Ciulei will perform some of his own compositions.

As a teenager, Ciulei spent summers in Spain learning authentic flamenco from street musicians. He will perform some of his own compositions,

“So if you are a fan of authentic Spanish guitar music, don’t miss this one,” Alexandra said.

Q. Why do you enjoy participating in events such as the Southern Guitar Festival?

A. I very much enjoy performing and sharing my music with the audience.

Q. Why the guitar? Why does playing, and listening to the guitar create such passion in so many people?

A. I always loved the guitar. I remember how much I disliked piano and guitar was so much better for me, it’s sounds and different voices. I believe it is just that, its timbre, its voice that’s so luring.

Q. Did you ever attend competitions/festivals such as this when you were younger?

A. I did, I attended many of them growing up. They were a good launching pad and helped keep me relevant in this world. Prepared me for what’s out there as an artist and musician in general.

Q. If you had to give one piece of advice to young guitar players, what would it be?

A. Practice a lot and go out and perform all the time. Nobody will know of you if you’re just playing at home.

Beijing Guitar Duo
Beijing Guitar Duo Submitted

Meet the Beijing Guitar Duo

Composed of guitarists Meng Su and Yameng Wang, the Beijing Guitar Duo has performed around the world in halls such as Concertgebouw, Tchaikovsky Hall, and the National Theatre in Beijing. This season, the duo are touring Canada, Australia, Europe, China — and of course, South Carolina.

“This is one of the best classical female guitar duos in the wold,” Alexandra said.

Q. Why do you enjoy participating in events such as the Southern Guitar Festival?

Meng Su:From an artist’s perspective, it’s really fun to play in community-based festivals like the Southern Guitar Festival. It gives us a stage to show our music for local guitar lovers, and it’s really inspiring for us to see the guitar is loved in different places around the country.

Yameng Wang:It is very exciting that numerous guitar festivals and/or competitions are emerging in the US today. I performed at some of such events and was also a judge of several competitions. I feel that these events offer us the opportunities to reach a wider audience from diverse backgrounds. And competitions such as the ones at Southern Guitar Festival allow guitar players of all levels to perform, to play with and learn from each other, and most importantly, to share the love of guitar. I look forward to visiting Columbia again and perform at the SGF this year.

Q. Why the guitar? Why does playing, and listening to, the guitar create such passion in so many people?

Meng Su:The guitar is such a charming instrument. It has beautiful sounds that can bring out the most delicate to the most complicated feelings. Having been playing the guitar from age 5, It is not only an instrument and a voice to express my mind, it is my best friend and partner.

Yameng Wang:My father plays classical guitar and it’s quite natural that I picked it up at a very young age. I may be biased but I always have a feeling that there is something magical about guitar: it doesn’t cost much to own one and it is easy to carry around, while it can be used to play highly sophisticated music, it is not difficult at all for a beginner to start learning his or her first chord on a guitar.

Q. Did you ever attend competitions/festivals such as this when you were younger?

Meng Su: Competitions motivate guitarists to improve their playing. Growing up I had won several international competitions, and it helped me every time technically, musically, mentally and so on. I also loved traveling, I made many friends at competitions from different countries.

Yameng Wang:I was the winner of the Tokyo International Guitar Competition at the age of 12. Taking part in a contest with professional guitarists twice my age and finally won was a life-changing event. I decided to become a professional guitarist after the competition.

Q. If you had to give one piece of advice to young guitar players, what would it be?

Meng Su: Practice slowly.

Yameng Wang: Practice, practice, practice.

Dragos Illie won first prize during last year’s Southern Guitar Festival.

“He is a young guitar virtuoso who swept our judges off their feet,” Alexandra said.

Illie went on to win multiple national and international guitar competitions. This year, he will present the masterworks of Mexican and Italian composers.

Q. Why do you enjoy participating in events such as the Southern Guitar Festival?

A. It is a great opportunity to perform and meet people who already are in your professional circle. Most guitarists grow around festivals, competing at a young age, listening the concerts, masterclasses. It is a great honor to be invited later as a performer.

Q. Why the guitar?

A. Guitar is truly a special instrument; its tone, timber and overall execution fascinates the audience. Part of instrument’s success lies in its mystery; while it is not maybe the loudest, it calls for the listener to join it. You could argue that today guitar is one the most famous instruments. However, as a “classical” instrument, we still seem to have a long way to go. I think the reason guitar ignites people’s interest is the quest of pushing the limits of the instrument for tomorrow’s generation.

Q. Did you ever attend competitions/festivals such as this when you were younger?

A. Most of the classical guitarists today have started developing at guitar festivals. I remember the change I felt after my first one. It is rare to be in a place where masterclasses, concerts, workshops and other guitarists (who most likely will be your future colleagues) happen at the same time. Some get very motivated by the competitions. Others enjoy listening to concerts, trying new guitars or see their favorite artist in person. There seems to be something for everyone at these events.

Q. If you had to give one piece of advice to young guitar players, what would it be?

A. I would strongly encourage young guitarists to attend to guitar festivals. I understand it is difficult sometimes to travel as well manage the expenses, but the experience is worth it. Think of it as a future investment in the music field.

Jay Kacherski
Jay Kacherski Submitted

Meet Jay Kacherski

Jay Kacherski is a celebrated classical guitarist who regularly performs throughout the U.S and Latin America.

“He will conclude our program by presenting some of the most beloved guitar pieces from the 20th century,” Alexandra said.

Q. Why do you enjoy participating in events such as the Southern Guitar Festival?

A. Events like this are great to meet old friends and colleagues, but also to meet and make new friends and colleagues as well. Also, it is wonderful to meet the students and amateur guitar aficionados that come to these events.

Q. Why the guitar?

A. The guitar’s popularity starts, of course, with its use in rock, blues, jazz, and folk music — for most of us, that is what draws us to the instrument in the beginning. After that, we all find our particular path and passion whether it is classical or flamenco or jazz or any of the above. It is an incredibly versatile instrument with lots of variations to fit each genre and style and it’s ability to be the medium for expression for all those styles and personalities is a big draw.

Q. Did you ever attend competitions/festivals such as this when you were younger?

A. Yes, I did. Festivals like this were instrumental (no pun intended) to my growth as a guitarist and to the path that I took during my studies. I met all of my future professors at guitar festivals, so it is safe to say that the impact they had on my path in music was incredibly important.

Q. If you had to give one piece of advice to young guitar players, what would it be?

A. Go to as many festivals as you can — meet fellow students and see great performances live! Youtube is great, but it is not the same as being in the audience.

If you go

Southern Guitar Festival and Competition

When: June 7-9

Where: Richland Library, 1431 Assembly St.

Cost: Competition rounds (observation), workshops and lectures are free and open to the public.

For more information: www.southernguitarfest.com

Friday, June 7

4 p.m.: College Ensemble Competition Finals

5 p.m.: Versatility: A path to success. Workshop by Don Russo. Learn about the foundations of various guitar styles, such as rock, blues, funk, country, jazz. Participants are encouraged to bring guitars.

7 p.m.: Solo concert by Romanian guitar virtuoso Dragos Ilie and internationally recognized Flamenco guitarist Silviu Octavian Ciulei.

Saturday, June 8

10 a.m.: Solo competition, Division I

10:30 a.m.: Division III competition (grades 1-8)

11:30 a.m.: Division II competition (high school division)

2:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.: Introduction to Improvisation workshop by Dr. Bert Ligon. Participants need to bring guitars. Level: intermediate (at least three years of guitar lessons).

3:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m.: Guitar Idol SC competition

3:30 p.m.-4:15 p.m.: Music Education in China presentation by Beijing Guitar Duo

4:30 p.m.-5:15 p.m.: Music from Republic of Georgia, a presentation by Tariel Iberi

5:30 p.m.: Dinner at Al Amir Restaurant

7 p.m.-8 p.m.: Beijing Guitar Duo concert

8:30 p.m.: Gathering at Hunter Gatherer

Sunday, June 9

2:15 p.m.-3:30 p.m.: Youth ensemble division finals. Open to the public.

2:15 p.m.-4:30 p.m.: Solo competition finals

4 p.m.-5 p.m.: Solo concert by American guitar virtuoso Jay Kacherski

5:10 p.m.: Awards ceremony

6:30 p.m.: Dinner at Monterrey Mexican Restaurant

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