I just got back from the Guitar Foundation of America International Guitar Competition, where I saw Duo 46 perform my piece Sonata 46 in concert. Of course, they ripped the hell out of it, like they always do. It got a huge reaction from the audience like it always does – thunderous applause, hooting and hollering, shouts of “Bravo!”. However, the response after the concert was not quite what I had hoped it would be. I was approached by a few people (one was David Tanenbaum – that was pretty cool), but not a whole lot – and no one asked me if I had any music for sale, or had a CD, or web site, or anything – kind of dissapointing.

The concerts I saw however, were not.

I got in to Oberlin, Ohio after 8PM on Sunday night, so I was only able to catch the last half of David Tanenbaum’s concert. I wish I would have left Bloomington an hour earlier, because this concert was awesome. David’s thing is playing new music by living composers (I even got to thank him the next day for representing composers – I’ve wanted to thank him for that for a long time). I saw him play a very interesting piece by Lou Harrison written for a kind of steel string guitar with a steel body that was invented in the 1920’s for jazz guitarists in the pre-electric guitar era. Very cool sound – I wasn’t so hot on the piece itself, but it was a cool sound and a cool idea. The highlight of the evening was definitely Aaron Jay Kernis‘s 100 Greatest Dance Hits, for guitar and string quartet. He played the piece with the top student quartet from Oberlin (they were unbelievable players) and they all played the shit out of it – very exciting.

The next day (Monday) was the Duo 46 concert which they shared with guitarist Randall Avers (who played the second half). I’ve already commented on my piece above. The other highlights were Seastone by Brian Hulse, and Mountain Songs by Robert Beaser. The Mountain Songs are already established classics – great pieces – but the Hulse is new. I don’t know anything about him, but I’ve heard Seastone twice now, and it’s a really great piece. Duo 46 rocks man – I’m so glad and feel so lucky to be writing for them.

After Duo 46, Randall Avers came onto the stage to play his recital. At first, I was feeling a little lackluster about his program – Giuliani, Mertz, Mompou – but there was Brouwer – that made me feel better. However, the concert that he preceded to play was probably the most incredible guitar recital I’ve seen. I didn’t know the Giuliani piece, but I had heard the Mertz (Elegie) and the Brouwer (Sonata) many times before. I’ve never heard them played like this – ever. The depth of understanding – the musicianship – the sensitivity to every nuance was at a level I’ve never seen from a guitarist. I was totally blown away by him. I got to meet him and have lunch with him the next day, and he was a super nice guy and humble – same age as me and we have many mutual friends. I gave him some of my music and a CD – hoping that I can work with him someday – would be awesome. It’s basically every composer’s dream to work with a performer of Randall’s caliber.

That night, the feature concert was Paul Galbraith. He has been one of my favorite guitarists in the world since the release of his Bach recordings. He plays a custom 8-string classical guitar (one extra high string, one extra low string) and holds it like a cello – vertically with the headstock slung over his left shoulder. He has a large, wooden end-pin (just where the cello end-pin would be) that sits on top of a large resonator box – this amplifies his whole guitar even more. Even though he’s one of the most incredible guitarists on the planet right now, and I was in complete awe of his playing and his sound and his technique – his choice of repertoire was less than ideal for me. For me it was just – boring. He played some “baroque” keyboard suite that Mozart had written for his wife – boring as hell and definitely NOT one of Mozart’s finest moments. Then, the Quatre Pieces Breves of Frank Martin – ehh. Then the French Suite no. 2 of J.S. Bach – this was cool, but again a bit boring for guitar. I was dead tired, so I skipped the second half to go sleep.

On Tuesday, I watched my two good friends Jon Kulp and Matthew Hinsley present Jon’s song cycle Five Poems of Emily Dickinson. The presentation was very interesting, and Matt performed several of Jon’s songs, including the entire Dickinson cycle. Matthew has developed a very unique niche for himself. He performs song repertoire, usually performed by a guitarist and singer, or pianist and singer. He sings and plays – an amazing feat – especially if you see it happen right in front of you. His performance of Jon’s songs was so moving, there were several times I had to consciously keep tears from streaming down my face. They are such great pieces, and were performed so well and with great understanding and sensitivity of how to meld music with poetic meaning. I really think they will be part of the standard song repertoire in the future.

It was an awesome time, and I hope I get to go back again sometime. Guitar rules.