REVIEW: MIGF 2021 Virtual Edition

By March 1, 2021News

Read a review of the MIGF 2021 Virtual  Festival written by Dr. Sam Desmet on March 1, 2021:

Miami International GuitART Festival 2021 Virtual Edition

Anyone of us who even remotely (pun intended) organized an event over the past 12 months knows all too well about the challenging adaptations an artist/organizer needs to go through to represent our instrument in all its glory. Ever since, a musician’s world seems to have shrunk down to our practice rooms and a computer. Extra time… sure, but besides our usual guitar practice, many of us learned our fair share of basic recording and streaming as well.

Now imagine running an online guitar festival with concerts, lectures, workshops, performance and composition competitions and even a luthier’s exposition with artists located all over the world. Food for thought for one of the many zoom panel discussions during the Miami International GuitArt Festival.

I have witnessed this annual festival since its debut in 2016, but when organizer and guitar professor at the Florida International University guitarist/composer Dr. Mesut Özgen invited me to be part of its first ‘online’ edition (from February 20-28, 2021), I wasn’t sure what I signed up for.

Perhaps what does make this festival each year so unique is that it presents many guitarists in different stages of their career playing a variety of styles. With this year’s performance competition, which has been an annual tradition, we witnessed an impressive international line-up: Nikita Nedelko (Russia, 1st prize), Andrés Madariaga Corvalán (Chile, 2nd prize), Millet Padron (Cuba, 3rd prize) and Özberk Miraç Sarıgül (Turkey, 4th prize).

2020 was a difficult year for many of us, and as a guitar community we lost a friend and pioneer. As Stephen Goss mentioned on the first day of the festival, the many groundbreaking pieces Julian Bream commissioned during his legendary career left a trail of true eternal musicianship. Alluring renditions of Federico Bonacossa, Celso Cano, Marcin Dylla, Susana Frade and Eren Süalp in his honor for the Bream tribute concert.

This edition of the festival had written ‘Latin America’ written all over it. Brazilian guitarist Fabio Adour sure had his work cut out on programming the winning piece of this year’s composition competition ‘Variations on a theme of Liszt’ by Bence Hartl as part of his program. Virtuoso Yamandu Costa, one-woman band Badi Assad, multi-faceted Freddie Bryant, the invigorating Choro das Três and yours truly exposing some of Brazil’s finest during workshops and concerts: traditional choro, samba and improvisation.

Also, Cuba’s rich cultural colors were well represented. Perhaps you recognized the opening theme of Carlos Rafael Rivera’s guitar concerto at the beginning of each streaming. This mesmerizing concerto was commissioned by the MIGF and its first movement was performed two editions ago by Rene Izquierdo, who was asked again this year to perform some of the repertoire of his latest highly acclaimed album. Additionally, we heard engaging concerts by several other Cuban guitarists: Rafael Padron, Susana Frade, Zuleida Suarez and Milena Manganelli.

Food for an all-Uruguayan album through Marco Sartor’s intriguing performance and captivating gems of Venezuelan tradition by Luis Zea and friends left a great impression and unveiled that there’s still a lot of repertoire out there to discover.

Guitar chamber music often seems underrepresented at festivals but not at the MIGF. Talking about putting a virtual concert to the test: festival director Mesut Özgen and violinist Cihat Askin played refined duets… remotely. Alieksey Vianna treated audiences on works by Sergio Assad and Ralph Towner for guitar and string quartet. Further, Emiliano Leonardi and Ielyzaveta Pluzhko introduced us to new piano-guitar works dedicated to them as well. Consider many of these compositions reasons why guitarists should at least delve into chamber music a bit deeper.

The festival managed to captivate audiences by programming some really nifty and contrasting concerts as well, such as: lectures and performances around the nineteenth century guitar by Marco Battaglia and Robert Trent or the flamenco concert by Jose Luis de la Paz, Felipe Carvajal and Diego Alonso. The Fire and Grace duo with violinist Edwin Huizinga and guitarist William Coulter treated us on some of the Celtic and Spanish folk music mixed with Bach Cello Suites and Vivaldi Concertos while Angelito Agcaoili and Virginia Yep presented arrangements of Filipino and Peruvian folk songs alongside some of their own compositions.

At the beginning of each of these concerts, different luthiers (Bill Glez, Ibrahim Kirli, Michael Batell, Ed Claxton, Steven den Toom) were introduced as well, which we could follow during their virtual tour through their workshop as part of the luthier’s expo of the festival.

26 of the 30 festival events are still available on the festival’s YouTube channel, while 4 Zoom sessions that took place during the festival can be watched on the festival’s Facebook page and cover prevailing topics such as diversity in guitar music, community outreach initiatives and IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity and access) in performing arts.

During the ‘Stay Tuned!’ lecture, David Dolata and Federico Bonacossa covered our instruments’ ‘compromised’ tuning system throughout history, explored alternative ways of tuning as well as how contemporary composers often get inspired by ‘just’ intonation. A lecture perhaps to re- watch multiple times to fully understand each aspect of this intriguing topic.

Definitely a thumbs up for all free festival events, as these live streams are still accessible through the festival’s YouTube channel playlist “MIGF 2021 Livestreams”.

Dr. Sam Desmet,