URI Guitar Festival celebrates 8th year with more musicians, more concerts, more educational opportunities

Oct. 18-22 festival will introduce expanded focus on mandolin

KINGSTON, R.I. – Sept. 22, 2023 – As the University of Rhode Island Guitar Festival celebrates its 8th year, it is going through a growth spurt. When the festival comes to the Kingston Campus Oct. 18-22, it will feature more artists, more music and more educational opportunities for everyone from guitar aficionados to dedicated players to music lovers.

Classical guitarist Andrea Ganzalez performs at Pump House Music Works in South Kingstown during the seventh annual URI Guitar Festival. (Photos courtesy of the URI Guitar Festival)

The festival will present seven concerts over five days on the Kingston Campus and at nearby venues, showcasing more than 20 internationally renowned artists playing an eclectic mix of music, from jazz and blues to classical and contemporary rock hits played on a three-neck acoustic guitar. 

“Every year is a whirlwind, but this year we’ve reached new heights with the guitar festival,” said Adam Levin, founder and artistic director of the festival. “Not only in the breadth of the programming, but also the level of international artistry we’re bringing to the Kingston Campus and South County.”

Jontavioius Willis

Levin, director of the URI classical guitar program, launched the festival in 2015 as a one-day gathering. It has grown each year – even thriving through the pandemic in an online format. Along with one more concert, the festival this year is adding to its education program of workshops, guest-artist master classes, lectures and a two-division guitar contest for players from 13 years old through adult. The biggest addition is a new five-day mandolin course, led by Israeli mandolin virtuoso Jacob Reuven.

Mathias Duplessy

That is just part of a heightened focus on the mandolin, which has become a mainstay in the guitar festival programming over the years. Also, a mandolin ensemble will play an eclectic mix of music at five of the festival’s seven concerts. The faculty features Reuven, who Levin calls the “foremost classical mandolinist in the world,” along with Ekaterina Skliar of Russia, Dor Amran of Israel and Mark Davis, director of the Providence Mandolin Orchestra.

“The mandolin is a natural extension of the acoustic guitar and it’s part of the fabric of American music from bluegrass to rock ‘n’ roll,” Levin said. “We’ll hear it through the lens of classical repertoire – adapting some of the greatest works of all time for not only solo mandolin, but for mandolin ensemble.

Luca Stricagnoli

“Rhode Island is already a very mandolin friendly state with three major mandolin orchestras and ensembles. So, in some sense, we are giving audiences what they already love while also creating a profound program that promotes the next generation of mandolin stars and aficionados looking to refine their musicianship and technique.”

The festival will feature many artists new to the festival – such as Mathias Duplessy, Jeremy Jouve, Juan Falu, Luca Stricagnoli, Jontavious Willis, Elisa la Marca, Nicolo Spera, Mauro Zannata, and Pierre Bibault – hailing from such countries as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, France, Greece, India, Israel, Italy and Russia. For URI community members, there will also be a number of familiar names – such as URI jazz guitar teacher Jay Azzolina, string bass teacher Dave Zinno, classical guitar graduate student Adrian Montero Moya, and URI Professor of Composition Eliane Aberdam.

“Every year, I try to mix it up,” said Levin. “I constantly seek to bring novelty, fresh perspectives, and internationally renowned artistry to the state of Rhode Island and specifically to URI’s campus so that music lovers, guitar students, and people who are curious to learn more about the guitar have this festival available to them.”

Montero Moya will open the five days of concerts Wednesday, Oct. 18, at the Courthouse Center for the Performing Arts, 3481 Kingstown Road, West Kingston, at 7:30 p.m. He will premiere three works for solo classical guitar, compositions by Eliane Aberdam, young American composer Thatcher Harrison and Cuban-Spanish composer Eduardo Morales-Caso. The night also features fellow Costa Rican guitarist Jeisson Ramirez Salas and Filippos Manoloudis of Greece, winners of the National Guitar Competition of Costa Rica and URI Guitar Festival’s 2022 Rising Stars International Virtual Guitar competition, respectively.

On Thursday, Oct. 19, the festival features a night of music from America with Georgia blues guitarist Jontavious Willis and URI jazz guitarist Azzolina and his quartet – Zinno on bass, Joe Barbato on accordion and Max Goldman on drums – at 7:30 p.m. at the Towers in Narragansett.  

On Friday, Oct. 20, lutist Elisa la Marca and guitarists Maura Zanatta and Nicolo Spera will explore the evolution of Italian music from the 16th century to 21st century at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, 383 Old North Road, Kingston, at 7:30 p.m. Opening the show will be musicologist Danilo Prefumo, who will provide background on the night’s repertoire. There will be an open mic from 5 to 6:30 p.m., which is open to the public.

The mandolin ensemble will open the weekend with a performance Saturday, Oct. 21, in St. Augustine’s Church, 15 Lower College Road, starting at 4:30 p.m. French classical and electric guitarist Pierre Bibault – “a champion of new music,” Levin says – turns the focus to French music, which will continue that night in the Concert Hall at the URI Fine Arts Center, 105 Upper College Road.

That night, the Great Necks Guitar Trio – Levin, Matthew Rohde and Scott Borg – opens the 8 p.m. show, which will include the world premiere of “A Thousand Lives,” a commissioned work by guitarist Mathias Duplessy, the festival’s composer-in-residence, who will join the trio for a performance of his guitar quartet. Duplessy will then join classical guitarist Jeremy Jouve and Indian tabla player Amit Kavthekar for a set of colliding cultures in which classical meets Western music. “It will be a riveting night of musical giants colliding and lighting up the skies with fabulous music,” Levin said.

The final day opens with a concert showcasing the Rising Stars Young Guitarists’ Program and the mandolin course at 3 p.m. in St. Augustine’s. That night in the festival finale, classical folk guitarist Juan Falú of Argentina and acoustic fingerstyle guitarist Luca Stricagnoli of Italy will present two very distinct voices on the guitar in the Fine Arts’ Concert Hall at 7 p.m.  

Falú will transport the audience to Argentina and South America, and Stricagnoli, an internet sensation, will play some of the most famous rock songs on solo guitar – at times a guitar with three necks. “He brings together melody, harmony and percussion on one instrument,” said Levin. “He is a consummate entertainer and will certainly bring everyone to their feet.”

As he prepares for the festival’s eighth year, Levin says the job of artistic director has gotten more manageable because he works with and oversees a team of like-minded passionate musicians, volunteers, and students. 

“My team and I know what to expect, and have established a sustainable and scalable model. But, as we expand, we are faced with a myriad of new artistic and organizational feats, which forces us to professionalize and offer an even more beautiful and enjoyable musical experience. I challenge myself each year to rethink, reevaluate and push the festival to the next benchmark,” he said. “Reinvention is what makes this festival unique and it’s the fabulous artists that inspire me to keep looking toward the next horizon. In fact, this spirit is exactly what URI inculcates among faculty members and students on campus.”

The festival, including all concerts and educational programming, are available in-person and virtual. Tickets include multi-day, full access and partial access packages. For a full lineup, ticket packages and more information, go to the festival website.