Uppsala Guitar Festival Offers Bounty of World-Class Talent


Brothers Leonard (left) and Slava Grigoryan perform at the Uppsala International Guitar Festival in Uppsala, Sweden.

(Photo: Bob Rose/Courtesy Facebook.com/gitarrfestivalen)

The distant sounds of acoustic guitars floated through the air as the performances got underway on the second floor of the Uppsala Konsert & Kongress, home to the 13th-annual Uppsala International Guitar Festival in Sweden, which ran this year October 6–9.

With people of all ages trying out a variety of guitars and guitar brands from both store and individual dealers, the Guitar Fair was the perfect backdrop to live performances. It’s an event that has only grown in worldwide stature, drawing from its humble beginnings with such major players as John McLaughlin, Ralph Towner and Paco de Lucia. (Speaking of de Lucia, on the bill this year was a screening of La Guitarra Vuelta, The Guitar Flies, an important documentary about the late flamenco guitarist currently being shown at film festivals around the world.)

Every year, the Uppsala International Guitar Festival presents an intriguing array of guitarists and alternative string players. Case in point, sitar star Anoushka Shankar—known to many as the daughter of the late sitar master Ravi Shankar (and half-sister to Norah Jones)—was this year’s headliner.

As always, there was a variety of genres and styles. Last year, this reviewer took in an amazing concert featuring Pat Metheny playing with two of Sweden’s young emerging talents, brothers Konrad and Mauritz Agnas on drums and bass, respectively. This year’s program presented a deep bench of classical guitar masters, including the delicate yet forceful Brit Laura Snowden and the brilliant, encyclopedic Fabio Zanon from Brazil.

But there were also the variations: wistful country crossover singer-guitarist Sofia Karlsson with her Grand Guitar Orchestra, British rockabilly legend Albert Lee and head-banging American rocker Paul Gilbert. And, of course, there was the festival’s annual and popular Young Talents Competition, along with many relevant workshops, seminars and clinics—all of it under one roof.

The combined late-Saturday afternoon program of Argentinian guitarist Agustin Luna and the Maia Castro Trio—with Uruguay’s Castro both singing and playing guitar with electric keyboard and squeezebox accompaniment—was a tango fest unto itself. Playing Piazolla, among others, the tangoes were tough and tender, sometimes both in the same song. In separate shows, Luna eventually joined Castro’s trio for more zestful fun.

On the afternoon of Oct. 9, guitarist Anders Miolins premiered a new piece with the KammarensembleN string quintet, “A Dream Play,” for 13-string guitar and string ensemble. Written by conductor Andreas Pfluger, it held echoes of John Lewis’ stirring avant-garde “Piece For Guitar & Strings.”

A centerpiece of this year’s festival was the appearance of Australia’s Grigoryan Brothers. Their first of three performances revealed two guitarists equally comfortable traversing the worlds of classical music, jazz and beyond. Beginning with “Fantasy On A Theme by William Lawes” by brother Slava Grigoryan, the duo exchanged phrases that mesmerized as they traveled back and forth between rhythm and single-note articulation.

Fun to watch, the two worked like a well-oiled machine as they proceeded to take on Handel’s “Concerto For Organ In B-flat Major,” one player working the top frets while the other concentrated farther down, bass and treble roles suddenly interchangeable.

A spritely waltz (more pop than classical), and Leonard’s Grigoryan “This Time,” played in 6/4, brought that mesmerizing feel back, leading into “Chiquinha Gonzaga” by Radamés Gnattali. This more playful tune had a Spanish feel, with brisk chords and busy trading of leads, the music tilted toward the romantic.

The duo’s encore was Ralph Towner’s “Duende.” Another dreamy waltz, it offered the brothers a perfect work in which to do a kind of two-in-one mirroring of each other, soloing in turns.

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