The Guitar Society of Toronto recently held its sixth annual Toronto Guitar Weekend at St. Andrew’s Church in the Entertainment District, featuring concerts, lectures, and other activities. The Society has been presenting concerts in the City of Toronto since 1956 and is the oldest guitar society in North America. Founder Eli Kassner was instrumental in promoting the love of classical guitar, establishing guitar programs in both the University of Toronto and the Royal Conservatory of Music. Perhaps his most well-known student is Liona Boyd.

The Guitar Weekend began Friday, April 26 with a concert featuring two young competition winners. Brent Crawford of Toronto, first prize winner of Guitare Montreal 2018, played a varied programme by Tarrega, Scriabin and Sergio Assad. Virtuoso Bokyung Byun, South Korea, played the second half of the concert, having won the 2018 Joann Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition, which takes place in Buffalo every other year. Bokyung is the first woman to win, and she showed her form by playing the Villa-Lobos Concerto with which she won the competition, accompanied by Canadian pianist Jean-Luc Therrien.

Saturday continued with lectures from local guitarist Mariette Stephenson, who spoke about the role of women in the history of guitar ensembles, as participants, conductors, and composers; and American guitarist Candice Mowbray detailed the solo performing career and compositions of French virtuoso Ida Presti. Participants enjoyed trying out many beautiful handmade guitars from ten Ontario- and Quebec-based luthiers.

Classical guitarists and the Paraguayan community alike greeted the Saturday evening appearance by Paraguayan guitarist Berta Rojas with great excitement. In her first visit back to Toronto since 2015, she played a stunningly beautiful concert featuring music by Manuel Ponce, Federico Moreno Torroba, and Augustin Barrios. Barrios, a Paraguayan composer of the early 20th Century, is a particular favourite of Rojas. It seems that Paraguayans are so proud of Berta Rojas, and of Barrios, in equal measure! A young Paraguayan guitarist drove here from Pittsburgh to perform for Berta in the master class Sunday, and of course, played a Barrios composition.

The Guitar Weekend for 2020 is already in the planning stages. For information on concerts and events throughout the year, please visit www.guitarsocietyoftoronto.com.

By: Heather Morand Clark