URI Guitar Festival returns with fully hybrid slate, international lineup spotlighting four virtuoso female guitarists

Bonus all-star concert to close festival

KINGSTON, R.I. – Sept. 23, 2021 – The sixth annual University of Rhode Island Guitar Festival and Rising Stars Virtual Competition is packing a guitar case full of surprises for its return to the Kingston Campus Oct. 14-17 – a fully hybrid schedule, two extra days of music, and an international lineup of musicians that spotlights four virtuoso female guitarists.

Last year, the festival moved its scheduled spring festival to the fall because of the pandemic and presented three days of entirely virtual events. But this year, the festival is fully live and fully virtual. So, festival-goers can choose how they attend the daily schedule of concerts, master classes, workshops and lectures.

“It’s truly hybrid,” said Adam Levin, the classical guitar professor at URI and festival artistic director. “It allows for maximum accessibility. If you feel uncomfortable participating in person, the virtual format is available to you. If you’re tired of the virtual format and eager to get back into these venues, we offer every concert, master class and lecture in person.”

Kaki King

The URI Guitar Festival, which Levin began curating in 2015 as a one-day event, grows to four days this year – well, actually five. For the first time, the festival will present an all-star bonus concert on Monday, Oct. 18, at 7:30 p.m. at St. Augustine’s Church, 15 Lower College Road. That day, the musicians will rehearse and record an album, “Sessions,” in St. Augustine’s before the night’s show. The album will be released in spring 2022 by Frameworks Records. Tickets for all concerts, including the bonus show, are $20 for general admission and $10 for students and can be purchased at the festival website.

“This is basically the plucked instrument analog to Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble,” said Levin of the concert’s “supergroup.” “We will bring the musicians together and play, in the improvisatory spirit, traditional works from the Irish, Jewish and Chinese traditions.”

Gohar Vardanyan

This year’s lineup includes musicians from such countries as Poland, Israel, Romania, Cuba, Iran, Australia, Belgium, Armenia, Brazil and South Africa, presenting a vast variety of musical genres and styles. “We always have an international flare, but this year seems to be supercharged with the DNA of many different nationalities,” Levin said.

Headlining are four master female guitarists – Kaki King, Badi Assad, Gohar Vardanyan, and Katarzyna Smolarek.

“They are four major female guitarists,” Levin said. “Guitar, unfortunately, has been a male-centric world. In curating the festival, I wanted to showcase the dynamic and impressive female virtuosi of our time.”

American guitarist King is already considered one of the world’s greatest living guitarists and has been called by Rolling Stone “a genre onto herself.” Besides releasing nine albums, she has created music for numerous films and TV shows, including “August Rush” and “Into the Wild.”

Assad, a vocalist and guitarist who infuses her native Brazilian music with pop, jazz and world sounds, has recorded more than a dozen albums and is the sister of renowned guitarists Odair and Sergio Assad.

Armenian guitarist Vardanyan, known for her technique, artistry and passionate performances, has performed throughout the U.S. and internationally. And, Smolarek of Poland, winner of the festival’s 2020 Rising Stars young artist competition, has captured more than 20 awards at national and international competitions.

On Thursday, Oct. 14, Smolarek opens the festival with a virtual, pre-recorded performance because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. She is followed by Duo Mantar – Levin and Israeli mandolinist Jacob Reuven – at Pump House Music Works, 1464 Kingstown Road, Wakefield. Levin and Reuven will perform music from their chart-topping debut album, “Music From the Promised Land,” along with a world premiere arrangement of composer Astor Piazzolla’s “Fall and Winter,” based on Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” The show starts at 7:30 p.m.

On Friday night, Oct. 15, at 7:30 in St. Augustine’s, Australian-American guitarist Scott Borg will perform his transcription of the “Carmina Burana,” a cantata composed in 1935 and 1936 by Carl Orff based on the 24 poems of the medieval collection of the same name. Borg will be followed by the Maharajah Flamenco Trio, whose performance will be infused with Spanish flamenco music.

“It will be a landmark occasion. The ‘Carmina Burana’ is one of the great cantatas of all time,” Levin said. “Borg has translated this magnificent, huge orchestral work for the eight-string guitar. My mind is just melting thinking about this technical feat and the creative ways in which he made this possible on the guitar.”

On Saturday, Oct. 16, Armenian guitarist Vardanyan and Belgian guitarist Jerome Mouffe will perform at 4 p.m. in St. Augustine’s. That night, David Veslocki will head a group that includes bassist Ike Sturm, percussionist Richie Barshay, beatboxer Mark Martin and vocalist Mike Minelli performing jazz, flamenco, R&B, and electronica. Closing the show, Assad will present a collection of Brazilian works with American guitarist Matthew Rohde. The night show starts at 7 in the URI Fine Arts Center, 105 Upper College Road.

On Sunday, Oct. 17, the festival finale will open with the annual free concert of Rhode Island-based performers at 3 p.m. in St. Augustine’s. The show features the Providence Mandolin Orchestra, the New England Guitar Orchestra, the URI Guitar Ensemble, members of the Rhode Island Music Educators Association All-State Guitar Ensemble, and the Connecticut Suzuki Academy Guitar Ensemble.

King, known for her percussive playing style and jazz-related melodies, heads up Sunday night’s show in the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall. South African guitarist Derek Gripper and cellist Mike Block, who has performed with the Silk Road Ensemble, open the show at 7 p.m. with “music from their recent album spontaneously recorded one afternoon,” Levin said.

Along with the concerts, the festival includes its traditional lineup of master classes, lectures and workshops in the Fine Arts Center, along with CD signings and opportunities to meet the performers. Ticket packages range from active virtual or in-person participant, which includes two master classes and all festival events, to a four-day auditor pass, which allows patrons to audit master classes and attend concerts and lectures. There are also day passes and tickets for each concert.

Lecture topics include guitar arranging with Gregg Nestor; navigating the gig economy with Jim Perona; and musical life during and after COVID-19, a round-table discussion with festival artists, hosted by Victor Main.

The festival’s Rising Stars Program will crown winners in two categories of its juried guitar competition: Young Artist Division (guitarists age 18 and older) and Youth Division (ages 12 to 18). The deadline for submitting a live performance video of under 10 minutes is Oct. 8. To see contest requirements, registration fee and prizes, go to the Rising Stars Program webpage.

Along with the URI Department of Music, the URI Guitar Festival is sponsored by the Augustine Foundation, Wakefield Music, Guitar Salon International, Johnson String Instrument, Pump House Music Works, Your Heaven Audio, Holiday Inn, Kenny Hill, Alhambra Guitars, What’s Up Rhode Island, Augustine Strings, Rhode Island Guitar Guild, Strings By Mail, Classical Guitar Magazine, Coast HVAC, G7 Capos, and Tonebase, Xguitars, Sugar Loaf Hill B&B, Sheppards’ Place B&B, The Atlantic House Hotel, The Anchor Motel, and the Aqua Blue Hotel.