KINGSTON, R.I. — Musicians from around the world and guitar lovers from all over New England will gather this weekend at the University of Rhode Island for the fourth URI Guitar Festival.
The guitar is a world class instrument and a global phenomenon that resonates with people, said Adam Levin, the organizer of the event who aims to make the instrument and its music accessible to everyone.
“There’s a thirst for this kind of artistic expression,” he said by phone earlier this week. Levin is a music instructor at the university and a classical guitarist who performs regionally and internationally. He’s excited to host another festival, which he said has expanded even more since last spring.
The festival brings together musicians and guitar enthusiasts for three days of concerts, classes and camaraderie. This year’s event will begin Friday, April 5 and conclude the evening of Sunday, April 7, and highlight a range of music, from electric guitar to jazz guitar, classical music to electronica, and even a Greek guitarist paired with a Spanish Flamenco guitarist from Russia.
Among the artists featured are Gaelle Solal of France, Dimitris Kotranakis of Greece, Maarten Stragier of Belgium, Scott Borg of Australia, Grisha Goryachev of Russia, Robert Bekkers of the Netherlands, Clarice Assad of Brazil, and Matthew Rohde, Eric Zillmer, Regina Campbell, Mark Davis, Josh Bell, David Veslocki, all from the United States.
An Tran of Vietnam will also perform a concert, featuring traditional Vietnamese music. Tran is the winner of the 2018 Rising Stars Program, an initiative the festival began last year. He will also be paired with Stragier, a contemporary classical guitarist who will showcase music from the last half century.
This year, 31 young musicians submitted entries in the Rising Stars digital competition, which has two categories: a young performer division for classical guitarists age 19 and older, and a high school division for musicians age 14-18. A jury of five participating festival artists will decide on this year’s recipients. Their main criteria: who would they like to see in concert.
The number of students attending this year’s festival has doubled. Last year there were about 35 students and this year about 70 are registered. Levin sees this increase as an indicator that people want to learn more about classical guitar, and share perspective, inspiration and an exchange of ideas.
These students span a range of ages, backgrounds and skill levels, from middle and high school students, to college students, aficionados and retirees.
A significant component of the festival are master classes, all taught by participating musicians. While these classes are all at capacity, the option to audit these sessions is still open. Levin suggests this for anyone interested, and said there is a lot to be gained from sitting in on a class.
“I find being an auditor the most advantageous,” he said, noting you don’t have the pressure of having to perform. “Sometimes observing objectively allows you to go home and apply those ideas to your own playing … in a lower stress environment.”
Two lectures are also part of the weekend program. On Saturday, Regina Campbell, a physical therapist, will present on “Making Music and Avoiding Injury,” and on Sunday Dr. Eric Zillmer, a sports psychologist, will present on “Music, Psychology, and Maximizing Performance.”
Levin said these topics are intended to shed light on the mental and physical well-being of musicians, elements often ignored amidst long hours of practicing, performing and traveling.
Clarice Assad will visit the festival for her first Rhode Island performance. The renowned composer and vocalist, born in Brazil and currently living in Chicago, will take the stage with The Great Necks Guitar Trio on Sunday evening. This trio includes Levin, Scott Borg and Matthew Rohde.
Assad comes from a family of renowned classical guitarists and has been writing music for guitar for many years. “I’m kind of the black sheep of the family because I don’t play guitar,” she said by phone earlier this week.
For her performance with the guitar trio, the audience should expected a blend of vocals and piano, Brazilian music and Paul McCartney. “It’s going to be fun, we like to bring as much color as we can to those combinations of instruments,” she said.
Assad will also be hosting a master class and ensemble coaching session on vocal improvisation, a particular interest of hers. She described this class as a “spontaneous musical creation experience” and said participants will use only their voices and bodies to make music, learning how to make their voice sound like a flute, violin, synthesizer or beatboxing machine, all while exploring a full range of “colors and sounds.”
“Not everyone can read music, but everyone can understand what a pattern is. We go from that and create amazing things together,” Assad said of her class, which will be held Sunday from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Tickets for the festival range from full weekend passes to admission for individual concerts.
An “active participation” pass costs $125 and includes admission to all master classes, concerts, ensemble workshops and lectures for all three days of the festival. A “3 day auditor pass” costs $80 and allows for auditing master classes, attending lectures and admission to concerts all three days. A “Single Day Auditor Pass” costs $50. And individual concert tickets range from $8-15.
A free recital will be held Sunday at 3 p.m. in the URI Fine Arts Center and feature the RIMEA All-State Ensemble, URI ensembles, the Boston Guitar Orchestra, and the Providence Mandolin Orchestra with Levin as a guest artist.
The festival is again partnering with Pumphouse Music Works in Peace Dale, a venue Levin describes as “virtuoso cool,” and which will be the location for all programing on Friday. Days two and three of the festival will take place at the URI Fine Arts Center. For a full schedule of events, visit uriguitarfestival.org/schedule.
Levin admitted the festival is a bit of a “selfish platform.”
“In one weekend I get to hang out with the people who I admire the most, and respect the most, while sharing their artistry with the Rhode Island community,” he said, noting that he wants people to leave festival thinking it was a great time and having connected with world-class musicians, without barriers or expectations.
“Something I personally enjoyed about guitar festivals as a kid was feeling like I was a part of something bigger than myself. I was part of the pack,” Levin said, adding: “Come experience music in whatever way you want.”