REPORT:17th International Guitar Festival in Hersbruck (Germany) , August 13th-20th

Tommy Emmanuel. Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Ralf Dombrowski reports from the opening days of the International Guitar Festival in Hersbruck near Nuremberg in Germany (*) 

Once a year, music instrument retailer Uwe Trekel makes his way southwards in a van from his shop in Hamburg to Hersbruck in Franconia.  where he lays out his trays full of guitar accessories for the week. "There is a high percentage who re-book," he told me, casting an eye over the participants in the workshops at the local convention center AOK. "I have known many of these faces for a long time. People keep coming back. "

These are enthusiasts who enjoy their opportunity to concentrate for a few days on the guitar. There are relatively few distractions in this town just to the east of Nuremberg, so the event really does revolve around the roughly two dozen renowned lecturers who give individual lessons, master classes, sessions and lectures.

So, in the evening, when the fingers are suffering from all that practice, one can venture out into the town, and check out on-stage what the elite of the guitar world on have to offer. The festival concerts have evolved over the years and have become both a cultural magnet and a source of pride throughout the region.

For the opening night of this year's 17th International Guitar Festival Hersbruck, the stage was graced by a world star of fingerstyle guitar, Tommy Emmanuel from Australia, who is normally to be found in halls that are significantly larger than the 500-seater GERU-Halle, a new venue inaugurated this year. Emmanuel presented his audience a panopticon of entertainment which shone in every detail, but veered more in the direction of perfection rather than genuine inspiration. As a technician Emmanuel is in the top echelon in the world. He first took up the guitar at the age of four and can scarcely have put it down in the intervening 57 years. His fluency is stunning, as is the extent to which he can vary his interpretations. He ranges from subtle harmonic arrangements through effective body percussion to rough Guitar Boogie and humorously oblique takes on Beatles songs, his pieces oscillate between a masterful de-construction of the well-known and a profound respect for the repertoire.

The contrast with the second evening's concert could have been greater. Whereas Tommy Emmanuel was a hurricane whose force swept over the audience, the gentle  breath of clarinettist Giora Feidman created sounds close to the borders of silence.

In fact he was which  playing so intently with the ​​fragile that he was almost overworking the idea and diminishing its meaning. He was also giving himself permission to turn the show into Vaudeville, larking about with his backing band the Gitanes Blondes. Things took a much more serious - and better - direction when Feidman was in a duo with guitarist and director of the festival Johannes Tonio Kreusch.

This pairing captured some fine, intimate moments, drawing inspiration from a range of sources from Franz Schubert to Egberto Gismonti, Theirs was a strong dialogue, a forceful act of creation by the two of them, celebrating the beauty of music. The message of that music has the power both to beguile and to set free was emphasized by Feidman in his announcements - and their playing was a demonstration of that fact..

There are now concerts running till  Friday. There is a Blues/Jazz Summit on Wednesday and flamenco with Paco Peña as the finale. Worth a trip.



Johannes Tonio Kreusch and Giora Feidman
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

(*) Ralf Dombrowski's original German text appeared in the respected Munich broadsheet Süddeutsche Zeitung.

LINK: International Guitar Festival Hersbruck website

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