URI Guitar Festival celebrates seventh year with lineup highlighting guitar’s family tree

KINGSTON, R.I. – Sept. 27, 2022 – The University of Rhode Island Guitar Festival has built a reputation over its seven years of bringing to Kingston some of the top classical guitarists from around the globe. This year, the festival is bringing along some of the guitar’s relatives.

Alongside renowned guitarists such as Andy McKee, Andrea Gonzalez Caballero, René Izquierdo, Adam Levin, Matthew Rohde, and Scott Borg will be masters of the oud, harp and mandolin – Simon Shaheen, Bridget Kibbey, and Jacob Reuven, respectively.

“I love the classical guitar dearly but I feel today, more than ever, that we should take this golden opportunity in which we place the guitar on a pedestal to also highlight instruments in the same plucked-instrument family,” said Levin, the festival’s artistic director, and artist/teacher in classical guitar at URI. “By programming other plucked instruments as well as other styles of guitar – like the acoustic fingerstyle guitar of Andy McKee – it refocuses us and allows us to enjoy the classical guitar with fresh ears.”

Andy McKee

The URI Guitar Festival will include six concerts over its four days, Oct. 20-23, on and around URI’s Kingston Campus. For guitar students and aficionados, there will also be numerous master classes, workshops and lectures – along with the annual Rising Stars Virtual Guitar Competition. Last year’s competition winner, Chinnawat Themkumkwun from Thailand, will perform on Thursday, Oct. 20, at Pump House Music Works, 1464 Kingstown Road, South Kingstown.

The festival has become a mainstay in the state’s cultural scene, Levin said.

Andrea Gonzalez Caballero

“I’m a firm believer in the statement ‘if you build it, they will come,’” he said. “And that’s been the case year after year, as we’ve expanded this guitar festival from a single-day event to four jampacked days featuring world-class artists from every geographical point on the planet.”

Along with festival regulars like Rohde, Borg, Levin and Reuven, this year will feature many newcomers – including Caballero, called the “female voice of the Spanish guitar” by Opera World magazine; McKee, who can make his steel-string guitar sound like a full orchestra; Kibbey, whose been tagged the Yo-Yo Ma of the harp; Shaheen, whose work on the oud runs from Arab sounds to jazz to Western classical styles; and Cuban-American coloratura superstar soprano Eglise Gutierrez.

Bridget Kibbey

For the first time, the festival will feature new works by two composers, including the festival’s first composer-in-residence, Eduardo Morales-Caso of Cuba and Spain. Levin met Morales-Caso while living in Spain as a Fulbright scholar almost 15 years ago. “I’ve championed his solo and chamber music for 15 years,” said Levin. “I’ve dreamt of an opportunity to celebrate his guitar catalog, and this year’s festival seemed like the ideal setting.”

Two compositions by Morales-Caso will get their world premiere Thursday, Oct. 20, at 7:30 p.m. at the Pump House. His piece for violin and guitar will be performed by Levin and his Duo Sonidos partner, violinist William Knuth, and his piece for three guitars will be performed by Levin’s trio, The Great Necks, which includes Rohde and Borg.

On Concerto Night, Saturday, Oct. 22, at 8 in the URI Fine Arts Center, Morales-Caso’s Concerto de la Herradura for guitar and orchestra will have its U.S. premiere, with Levin as the soloist.

That night will also feature newly commissioned pieces by Israeli-American composer Avner Dorman – a double concerto for mandolin, guitar and string orchestra with Levin and his Duo Mantar partner, Reuven, and the Narragansett Bay Symphony Orchestra, directed by Kristo Kondakci.

For Levin, the night will be one of three performances during the festival. All three of his ensembles will feature works from recent or upcoming albums, and he and Rohde will perform alongside soprano Eglise Gutierrez Saturday afternoon, Oct. 22, at 4:30 in St. Augustine’s Church on Lower College Road of URI’s Kingston Campus. On the final day of the festival, The Great Necks will perform with Kibbey on harp and Reuven on mandolin at 4:30 p.m. in St. Augustine’s.

“Usually I’ll perform once at the beginning and then focus on the festival. But instead my performances became dispersed throughout the festival this year,” he said. “If I survive this guitar festival it will be like that scene in ‘Conan the Barbarian’ when Arnold Schwarzenegger raises his sword up high in victory.”

The festival will again be completely hybrid allowing fans to attend concerts, master classes, workshops and lectures in-person or virtually. Ticket packages range from active virtual or in-person participation, which includes two master classes and all festival events, to a four-day auditor pass. There are also day passes and tickets ranging from $10 to $25 for individual concerts.

The festival’s Rising Stars Virtual Guitar Competition will name winners in two categories – Young Artist Division (guitarists age 18 to 35) and Youth Division (ages 13 to 17) – on Sunday, Oct. 23, in the Fine Arts Center before the gala finale performance at 8 p.m. This year, the festival also begins the Rising Stars Youth Guitar Program for classical guitarists ages 6-17, with Rhode Island natives and teachers Victor Main, Céili Connors, and Jim Davidson. Students in that program will be featured in a free concert on Oct. 23 at 4:30 p.m. in St. Augustine’s Church.

A complete schedule and lineup of artists can be found on the festival website.

Along with the URI Department of Music, the URI Guitar Festival is sponsored by the Augustine Foundation; Wakefield Music; Guitar Salon International; Pump House Music Works; Your Heaven Audio; Kenny Hill Guitars; Alhambra Guitars; What’s Up Rhode Island; Augustine Strings; The Rhode Island Guitar Guild; Strings By Mail; Coast HVAC; Tonebase; Xguitars; Robert’s Music; Aaron Green, Luthier; Chapman and Fisher; Sugar Loaf Hill B&B; Sheppards’ Place B&B; Charlesview Inc.; Kithara Project, Inc.; Hampton Inn; Fairfield Inn; The Anchor Motel; Admiral Dewey Inn, and Aqua Blue Hotel.