Interlude 13: Cleveland

I enjoyed my 2013 trip to the Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival so much that I resolved to go back in 2014. By then I had been taking online lessons with Jason Vieaux for almost a year—although, to be honest, I had only managed to upload a couple of videos for him to comment on—and I thought it would be nice to do an in-person lesson with him while I was there. He agreed to meet with me and we had a nice lesson together on Thursday. At the end of it he said “Why don’t you play on my Saturday master class?”

Now the thing you have to understand is that all of the master class students at the festival that I had seen were college students…music majors pursuing their degrees. All very good. All very, very young. It hardly seemed that I would fit in.

So, of course, I said yes!

And that is how I ended up on the stage of Mixon Hall on a bright Saturday morning. I played the third prelude by Villa-Lobos, and I played it well. Jason commented on my intensity and my absorption in the music. And of course he gave me some good pointers. At the remaining festival recitals, people who had been in the audience for his class stopped me to complement me on my playing. One woman who sat near me in the audience the next afternoon asked if I was a professional. I was hooked.

The next year I played in three master classes, and have played in classes each year since. I’m no longer the only adult doing so; a couple of other “later in life” learners have joined me. It is one of the things that has made the festival so special to me. I particularly value the classes I have had with Petra Poláčková and Ricardo Gallén.

And the concerts! Duo Melis playing in a thunderstorm. Jason Vieaux and Julien Labro. Elizabeth Kenny playing 21st Century music…on the theorbo! Colin Davin’s Nocturnal. SoloDuo’s Beethoven. So many wonderful recitals.

Another aspect of it that I enjoy is the chance to mingle with and get to know some really wonderful musicians.  Armin Kelly, proprietor of Guitars International and the artistic director of the festival, assembles amazing talent every year and creates a wonderful atmosphere. The festival is small enough to foster a nice sense of intimacy and I have gradually become a part of the scenery. I’ve made new friends and connections that have allowed me to feel a part of the guitar world in a way I never would have expected.

Then, too, there is the friendship I have formed with Jason Vieaux that only could have happened because of the festival. Mind you, it’s not hard to make friends with him; along with being a wonderful musician and guitarist he is a genuinely nice guy, impossible not to like, and very easy to be around. In addition to seeing him at the festival and at other concert appearances, I’ve had some lessons, some meals, and a memorable trip driving him to Newark airport from Beacon NY. And on top of all that, at the 2017 festival he gave me one of the best moments of my life so far.

I’ll let Jason tell the story…

Jason Vieaux at the 2017 Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival

I never had any thought that he would play my piece in public. It was just a little something that I thought perhaps he might play for his little daughter. But to be in that hall, to hear him play music that I had written—however slight—was amazing. And what made it magical was Evangelene’s reaction from the back of the auditorium! It’s something I will never forget, and one more reason why the Cleveland festival will always be special to me.

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