Friday, August 13, 2010

Strumming Interest: UST Holds First International Guitar Festival

The guitar is most likely the most popular musical instrument in the country, if not the whole world, attested Raul Sunico, artistic director of the country's premier artistic institution the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). Its popularity he attributed to its "being portable, inexpensive, and quite easy to learn as far as basics are concerned."

"Most of us don’t know that the guitar is actually capable of more complex and interesting sounds than we are used to hearing," said the renowned pianist, who is also dean of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Conservatory of Music, the largest conservatory in the country in terms of enrolment.

In the aim of showing the world the guitar as a classical instrument and as contribution to the quadricentennial celebration of the university in 2011, the Guitar Department, the third largest department in the conservatory, in cooperation with the Foundation for the Musical Filipino, mounts the Guitarra 2010: The First University of Santo Tomas International Guitar Festival, from Aug. 23 to 27.

The five-day festival features lectures, master classes and concerts of local guitarists and guitar teachers and international guests. Master guitarist from abroad include Agustin Castilla-Avila from Spain, Ruey Yen from Taiwan and Meng Feng Su also from Taiwan.

Born in Jerez de la Frontera, Avila obtained his music degree in guitar from the Conservatorio Superior de Sevilla under the tutelage of Josefina Calero. In 1998, he became the first guitarist to be awarded a scholarship by the Fundacion La Caixa and the British Council to study for a master’s degree at the London College of Music under Carlos Bonell. He later moved to the Guildhall School of Music where he earned a postgraduate diploma and a master's degree with guitarists Robert Brightmore, David Miller and composer Matthew King. He won the Portallion Solo Guitar Prize at this school. He also did guitar studies with Isabel Siewers at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria and with Frank Koonce at Arizona State University where he served as a teaching assistant. He has taught guitar at the Conservatorio de Musica de Ceuta and at the Conservatorio de Musica de Lucena, both in southern Spain. As a guitarist, he has played as a soloist, chamber musician and as a concerto soloist with orchestras in Spain, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Finland and the United States. As a composer, he has participated numerous music festivals and written for different music groups, solos, chamber music, orchestral, theater plays, choreographies and a chamber opera.

Since 2009, Avila is the artistic advisor of the Microtonal Music Society in Austria and is currently writing a chamber opera called Don Quijote’s Dulcinea for the Passau Festspiele 2010 in Germany, among others.

Taiwanese Ruey Yen earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Arizona State University and also holds a science degree in physics from the National Cheng Kung University. He has taken master classes with Manuel Barrueco, David Russell and Roberto Aussel. Yen was the director of 2004 Taiwan International Guitar Competition and Festival and has served as the executive board member of the Taiwan Guitar Society which he co-founded in 2000. Currently teaching in Open University of Kaohsiung, he has developed a series of online musicology courses which earned him national acclaim as a musicologist. His debut album entitled Guitarra Exotica with flautist Shelly O’Donin and tenor Joel M. Rinsema is a result of his interest in world music culture.

On the other hand, Meng Feng Su, who graduated from L’Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris in 2005 under maestro Alberto Ponce with a Superior Diploma of Execution and was also accepted with honors at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique de Paris under maestro Roland Dyens, is one of the most prominent guitarists in Taiwan today. He has been awarded many prizes in Taiwan and other countries. His debut two-CD album Contatos¸ which explores a wide range of classical guitar works including 19th century guitar music as well as that of South America, was released in 2008 and became a bestseller in Taiwan and has garnered good reviews. Meng Feng Su’s repertoire ranges from solos and concertos to chamber music and works for vocalist and guitar, and covers the Renaissance era to the present.

They join Filipino guitarists Ruben Reyes, Angelito Agcaoili, Joseph Mirandilla and Manuel Cabrera II, mostly from the faculty of UST Conservatory of Music and all UST alumni.

Reyes serves as the festival director of Guitarra 2010. He has performed in many events and projects, and has written and performed music for plays of Tanghalang Ateneo. With master’s degree in music, summa cum laude, from UST, he currently teaches classical guitar and is concurrently coordinator for the Guitar Department at the UST Conservatory of Music. Also, Reyes is the music director of both the UST Guitar Ensemble and UST Guitar Quartet, and a member of the Clarion Chamber Ensemble and the Majam jazz group.

Agcaoili studied guitar under Mario Rodriguez at the UST; Jose Luis Rodrigo at the Real Conservatorio Superior de Musica in Madrid, Spain; Elliot Frank at East Carolina University; and Frank Koonce at Arizona State University. He has also participated as a performer in the workshops and master classes conducted by world-renowned guitarists such as Leo Brouwer, Jose Tomas, John Williams and David Russell. He has also garnered several prizes in guitar competitions in the country. He has taught at the University of Santo Tomas, Santa Isabel College and St. Scholastica's College, and served as a teaching assistant at East Carolina University and at Arizona State University. He currently teaches at Arcadia Music Academy in Phoenix, Arizona.

His work and research on the guitar music of the Philippines has been steadily gaining recognition. He has premiered the guitar works of Filipino composers such as Bayani de Leon, Lucrecia Kasilag, Antonio Pahang, Jose Valdez and Angel Peña.

Classical guitarist Mirandilla received his first training of the guitar and bachelor’s degree in music at UST under Ruben Reyes. In 2005, he went to Hiroshima, Japan to pursue his post-graduate studies at the Elisabeth University of Music. He won honors and awards in several international guitar competitions. He currently works as a foreign expert instructor of guitar at the Sichuan Conservatory of Music in Chengdu, China, and is an active recitalist and concert artist with performances in Japan, China and the Philippines.

Cabrera started playing the guitar at the age of 18, obtained his bachelor of music in guitar performance at UST, later studied with acclaimed Japanese guitarist Norioh Sato and received his master of music in guitar under a scholarship grant from the Elisabeth University of Music in Hiroshima, Japan. He has won major competitions in the Philippines and Japan, and has performed in numerous events. He has taught at the UST Conservatory of Music from 2000 to 2007, and recently moved to Singapore to further pursue a career in performing and teaching.

They gather together in celebration of the guitar. The Guitarra 2010 lectures are held in the morning and master classes in the afternoon at the recital halls of the UST Conservatory of Music at the fifth floor of the Albertus Magnus Building of UST on Espana Street, Manila. Lectures include "World Music and the Guitar" by Yen; "Philippine Guitar Music" by Agcaoili; "Microtonal Music for the Guitar" and "Composing for the Guitar" By Avila; and "Teaching Beginning Guitar."

In the evenings, concerts are held at the Philamlife Auditorium on United Nations Avenue, Ermita, Manila. Agcaoili and Avila perform on Aug. 24, Yen and Mirandilla on Aug. 25, and Su and Cabrera on Aug. 26. On Aug. 27, the festival culminates with simultaneous master classes by the guitarist-teachers and concert in the evening. They are joined by the UST Guitar Ensemble and the Festival Guitar Orchestra.

The UST Guitar Ensemble is one of the large ensembles with member coming from the guitar faculty, students and alumni of the conservatory. It began as the UST Guitar Quartet until it into ensemble. It was originally conceived as an avenue for guitar students to learn ensemble playing, but evolved as one of the finest concert ensembles in the country. The ensemble is unique with its use of three guitar sizes, the alto, prime and bass guitars, which are tuned a fifth higher, standard and fourth lower respectively, giving the ensemble a much wider range than a regular guitar ensemble. The alto and bass guitars were made by luthier Adolfo Timuat. The group's repertoire consists of music from the Renaissance to the present, and in different combinations from duets to trios, quartets, quintets and more.

All lectures, master classes and concerts are open to the public. For reservations and inquiries, contact the UST Conservatory of Music at 731-4022 or 406-1611 local 8246; the UST Guitar hotline at 0927-2224297; or e-mail