2017 Stroud Festival and Competition at Oberlin
The James Stroud Classical Guitar Festival and Competition took place this weekend at Oberlin Conservatory. Now in it's tenth year, the event celebrates guitar students across the state of Ohio by providing a platform for performance and competition in an environment free of fiscal burden, but boasting internationally recognized guest artist/judges, world-class facilities and impressive prizes. James Stroud, the event's founder, funder, and one of the competition's judges, was a guitar student of mine at the University of Akron in the mid 1980's (MM '85). While an accomplished musician and a terrific guitarist, Jim instead pursued a career in finance. At this stage of life, he enjoys giving back to the field through this generous annual event.
This year, our guests were Cuban guitarist Rene Izquierdo and his wife, Belorussan guitarist Elina Chekan (they perform together as the Duo Exaudi). They opened our event with a concert of half duos and half solos, offered by Rene. The concert was the perfect mix of startling virtuosity, sublimely nuanced, expressive musicianship and varied programing (concert programs are reproduced at the end of the post).
The duo played a fine selection of Baroque works by Scarlatti and Bach, arrangements of works by Brahms and Debussy and finished with guitar duet music of Fernando Sor. For the second half, Rene offered a delightful group of Latin American and Spanish works. For his encore, he played his signature virtuoso arrangement of Debussy's Arabesque, an impossibly beautiful and breathtaking guitar tour de force. The audience responded with a standing ovation.
The competition took place entirely in one day, Sunday, March 5. The quarterfinals started at 9a. Contestants played sets of seven minutes each in the indescribably beautiful Stull Recital Hall, a glass-walled room that perches on top of the Conservatory, with views in three directions over the treetops and award-winning architecture of the campus. The room is dressed up in blond hardwood and gilded with state-of-the-art lighting and equipment. The guitars sound fantastic in there. Here, the judges deliberate:
Eighteen students entered the competition, from Cincinnati Conservatory, Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory, the Cleveland Institute of Music, The University of Akron and Oberlin Conservatory. After they'd finished the round, Stroud announced the results: eleven semi-finalists.
During a pause in the schedule, contestants and judges both tried out guitars that were offered for sale in the Kulas Lounge. Here, Rene and Elina take a few instruments for a spin:
Next, I played a chamber music program with colleagues of mine on the Oberlin faculty. Offering a sonic break from the sound of the guitar, I offered works for guitar with soprano, guitar with clarinet, and guitar with flute. Kendra Colton, soprano, sang The mystery which binds me still (2015), by Oberlin faculty composer, Jesse Jones.
Clarinet faculty, Richard Hawkins, joined me for Ferdinand Rebay's Sonata in Dm:
Finally, flute faculty Alexa Still joined me for another work by Jesse Jones, his Sonata for Flute and Guitar (2015):
After a dinner break, the Competition Finals began in Kulas Recital Hall. The four finalists had been announced and were, in performance order: Adam Sutorius (Cincinnati Conservatory), Yeram Yoon, Andrew Poxon (both, Cleveland Institute) and Brian King (Oberlin). The crowd gathered.
Each contestant played for fifteen minutes. At the conclusion of the program, there was a short intermission while the judges deliberated. The judges called the contestants back on stage and announced the results:
4th Prize ($500) --Adam Sutorius
3rd Prize ($750) --Brian King
2nd Prize ($1,250) --Yeram Yoon
And this year's 1st Prize winner, ($2,500 plus all-expenses paid participation in the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival in Montana) --Andrew Poxon
And a shot of all the contestants (minus four) plus the judges:
We in the Ohio guitar community thank Jim Stroud for his continuing generosity and interest in helping out serious young musicians. And many thanks to our guests this year, Rene and Elina, whose sublime musicianship set the musical tone for the weekend and whose sage advice and thoughtful judging helped elevate our event. To all the contestants who participated, thanks again for joining us this weekend and we hope you felt the experience was a good one. We look forward to seeing you again, next time!