URI Guitar Festival returns this month with virtual lineup of internationally renowned artists

Online festival offers workshops, master classes, lectures and free performances

KINGSTON, R.I. – Sept. 10, 2020 – Postponed in the spring because of the pandemic, the University of Rhode Island Guitar Festival is returning this month for its fifth year with a lineup of internationally known artists.

Annually hosted on the Kingston Campus and at other local venues, the URI Guitar Festival will be entirely online the weekend of Sept. 25-27 and will include workshops, master classes, lectures, high school and young artist guitar competitions, and a half-dozen free, public concerts from about 20 artists performing from locations around the world, including France, South Korea, Mexico, South Africa, Mali, Australia, and from around the United States.

“Each year, we have expanded from the previous year. It’s become one of the preeminent classical guitar festivals in the United States,” said Adam Levin, festival director and a URI teacher in classical guitar. “I had considered holding off on the festival until next spring, but I wanted to seize the moment and work in the conditions that we live in. Also, it keeps the economic ecosystem going for the artists, which has come to a standstill because of COVID. This is a way to infuse the arts with life during a drought.”

Among the artists taking part in this year’s festival are American guitar virtuoso Eliot Fisk, Irish 8-string classical guitarist Redmond O’Toole, American blues guitarist Corey Harris, 2018 Guitar Foundation of America winner Raphaelle Feuillatre of France, and African musicians Yocouba Sissoko and Derek Gripper.

Opening night concerts will feature O’Toole, Harris, and David Veslocki, whose performance will include a unique fusion of classical, electronic, jazz and Flamenco. Harris, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow from Chicago, is a great ambassador of the blues, Levin said.

“I like showcasing the versatility of the guitar,” said Levin. “Corey Harris is a phenomenal blues guitarist, and he’ll be a nice contrast to 8-string Brahms classical guitarist Redmond O’Toole. Corey’s also a wonderful spokesperson for that style.”

On Saturday, Sept. 25, Fisk, who served as a mentor to Levin while he pursued his master’s degree at the New England Conservatory, will perform with his wife, Mexican-American guitarist Zaira Meneses, and their daughter, Racquel Fisk, on piano. Levin will also perform that evening with his longtime chamber music partner and violinist, William Knuth, as Duo Sonidos.

“Eliot is probably one of the most famous classical guitarists of the last 50 years, if not across the history of the instrument,” Levin said. “He was the last disciple of Andres Segovia. There’s a legacy and tradition that comes to life through his playing. His wife is a virtuoso in her own right, and their daughter is this phenomenal young classical pianist.”

Among the closing performances on Sunday, Sept. 27, Sissoko of Mali will perform on the Kora, a West African, 21-string harp whose sound Levin likens to the harpsichord. In his part of the night, Gripper of South Africa will re-imagine the music of the Kora on six-string guitar.

Running a live festival can be a logistical nightmare, but presenting a virtual festival has its own unique challenges. Sound technology has to match the quality of world-class performers, so artists had to invest in equipment to provide audiences with a premier experience, he said. Organizing the schedules of numerous international artists in time zones three to eight hours behind or ahead of East Coast time also has been a hurdle.

Also, Levin has been sensitive to making concert-goers feel a part of something, allowing for time before and after shows for them to talk with artists. Audience-artist exchanges are also important for the performers, Levin said.

“One of the things that I love about being a concert artist and touring around the world is getting audience feedback. I feed off of that,” he said. “We’ve searched for ways to capture that energy and feedback. So, I think the meet and greet is going to be a really nice thing to do.”

The festival’s Rising Stars Program will present two competitions. Classical guitarists ages 19 and older can compete in the Young Artist Division, while those 13 to 18 can take part in the High School Division. Participants must submit a live performance video of under 10 minutes with two contrasting works. Prizes include a paid performance at the 2021 festival, a 2Mic Pro Wireless system with amplification, Augustine String sets, Strings by Mail gift certificates, Tonebase and Classical Guitar Magazine subscriptions for the winner of the Young Artist Division. The High School Division winner will receive a cash prize, a Kenny Hill concert guitar, a scholarship and airfare to the next festival, and two virtual guitar lessons from the artist of their choice from this year’s festival lineup.

As usual, the festival will feature a daily lineup of private lessons and master classes from participating artists available through different festival packages. Among the lectures being offered are Patricia Price, vice president of the public relations consulting firm 8VA Music Consultancy, on creating a cutting-edge, sustainable music career; Matthew Rohde, a guitarist and co-director with Levin of the Kithara Project, on creating community through the guitar; and Frederick Sheppard on the life and music of Agustín Barrios-Mangoré.

All concerts are free (donation optional) by adding your email and name to the registration for that night’s concerts; a link to the concert will be emailed to you. Active participant passes ($135) include two virtual master classes, concerts and lectures for all three days. Participants can also audit classes and lectures, along with admission to virtual concerts – $80 for three days, or $50 for individual days. For a full schedule of festival events, click here.

Along with the URI Department of Music, sponsors of the event are The Augustine Foundation, Kenny Hill Guitars, Guitar Salon International, The Classical Guitar Store, Augustine Strings, Johnson String Instruments, Alhambra Guitars, Tonebase, Your Heaven Audio, Wakefield Music, Classical Guitar Magazine, and Strings by Mail.