Music in Cardiff, Student societies

Cardiff Guitar Festival

Cardiff Guitar Festival

The Cardiff Guitar Festival was founded in 2016 by School of Music alumnus Chris Roberts during his second year at Cardiff University, with his former teacher Brian Firkins of Cardiff Music School. The festival has a strong educational focus, alongside providing inspiring concerts by some of the finest guitar talent currently on offer.

Over the past three years, the festival has welcomed some big names of the guitar world. Among them are Craig Ogden (Classic FM, and head of guitar at the Royal Northern College of Music), Eden Stell Guitar Duo (BGS Records and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire/Royal College of Music respectively), and Graham Anthony Devine (NAXOS Artist and head of guitar at Trinity Laban). This year is no different, as the festival welcomes internationally renowned artist Laura Snowden, and the astoundingly talented Daniel Martinez Flamenco Company.

In the post below, Chris answers some questions, and explains a little more on how his time in the School of Music helped to develop this idea.

So, why does the festival exist?

We didn’t start the festival with a particular vision in mind, so this is something that has developed over the course of the last three years, thanks to our first-hand experiences and the input of various trustees, parents and advisors. This year, we finally settled on our main three objectives:

  1. To inspire the next generation of guitarists/musicians.
  2. To broaden the horizons of those more experienced.
  3. To encourage the appreciation of the guitar as an exciting and versatile instrument.

The first of these was always going to be a core value of ours. There are plenty of guitar festivals in the UK, but few really give local kids the chance to interact with artists of the highest calibre. Being based in Cardiff Music School, a community music school in Chapter Arts Centre that teaches around 300 young students a week, this was something that we were extremely passionate about. The students find the chance to watch, talk to, and learn from our incredible concert performers inspiring which has pushed many of them to take the guitar further.

The second is something that I first witnessed in Dresden’s Hochschule für Musik (School of Music). There, all guitar students, whether classical, jazz, acoustic, or composition must study elements of the other genres. This has created many distinctive, boundary-breaking performers and composers who have achieved worldwide success (Sönke Meinen to name just one, check him out if you don’t know). This is something I believe to be vital to the contemporary guitarist, and indeed for the future of the guitar. By learning a variety of genres, you can incorporate them all into your style in some way, creating your own unique voice in a busy, noisy industry! We therefore expose all participants to workshops on jazz improvisation, flamenco technique, composition, harmony, and more.

Each year we get someone saying “Wow! I’ve never heard the guitar played like that!” We want more moments like this! By putting on a huge range of innovative performances, we achieve our third goal, showing everyone what the guitar can really do.

What can people expect?

As a concert-goer you can expect some jaw-dropping performances from incredible guitarists from the UK and beyond, alongside some more intimate performances from local stars.

As a participant, you will play in inspiring masterclasses with our incredible concert artists; take part in innovative workshops on anything from jazz, to flamenco, to harmony; rehearse and perform new commissions and old favourites as a guitar orchestra and/or chamber group; and (most importantly) consume excellent food and drink in great company!

How has the festival developed over the years?

We began the festival with just one evening concert, and one intimate lunchtime concert in a small room with an audience of about 10 people. We only had two short courses, junior, and advanced, with a small number of participants on each. Since that first event in 2016, our participant numbers have doubled, our concert numbers have doubled, we have almost 100 people at each evening event, and have completely outgrown our lunchtime venue, with audience members watching from the corridor last year! We also have three courses, beginner, intermediate, and advanced which span an entire week between them.

This is a particularly exciting time as we have set the festival up as a charity, recruiting a great team of trustees. The trustees have been so helpful, and their experiences as lawyers, social workers, and artists have been invaluable. I don’t know how we did it before them!

What’s your favourite moment across the last few events?

My favourite moment was probably that tiny, intimate lunchtime concert in our first event. We invited the Brecon-born guitarist Gerard Cousins up to give a concert, not having ever heard him play before. He performed some of the classic South American guitar repertoire, but what really got us talking were his compositions. These completely blew us all away and had us all fighting over the limited number of own-composition books he had brought! As I remember, he played Ripening Prelude, The First Beat is the Last Sound, In the Grip, White Cloud Blue Sky, along with a couple of other tunes. His style was a beautiful melting-pot of minimalist influences, West-African Kora music, and Welsh folk tunes. I still include his music in all my own concerts!

How did your time at the School of Music help progress your ideas?

When at the School of Music, I was lucky enough to be voted onto the Music Society (MuSoc) committee as one of the Concert Coordinators. The skills in planning, managing, public-speaking, (and even the ability to remain neutral during inevitable committee drama) that I gained from doing this have all contributed to the festival in some way.

Additionally, as I compose the music for the junior ensembles, the skills I learnt in composition from the fantastic department in Cardiff have been invaluable. My composition tutorials never ceased to be inspiring, and the workshop opportunities were incredible. I was also fortunate enough to be asked to compose a piece for one of the European String Teachers Association string days in the School of Music, which really helped me think about how to write for groups of learners at different stages.

What does the future hold?

Our main objective for the future is to make the festival as accessible as possible to those without sufficient financial resources. This year, we opened a bursary fund to help fund places on the courses for those that need it, and we are already discussing plans to create a Cardiff Guitar Festival initiative pairing students/early-career guitar teachers with more experienced mentors and giving them paid-work and training delivering free lessons for students in schools in typically more deprived areas.

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