Before this is too far in the rearview mirror, we wanted to give a shout-out to the Baltimore Classical Guitar Society, along with its artistic director Manuel Barrueco, for putting on the first edition of the Baltimore International Guitar Competition which took place on September 20–25, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a competition quite unlike any other, and the prizes the highest in any guitar competition in the world, with the $35,000 first prize divided into a $20,000 cash prize and a $15,000 career award sponsored by Augustine Strings, for which the winner can spend on anything career-related. The winner will return to Baltimore for a concert in the 2023–2024 concert season, along with other select performances in the U.S.
This account comes courtesy of BCGS president Asgerdur Sigurdardottir:
The BIGC decided on several different approaches compared to other guitar competitions: To ensure maximum fairness in the adjudicating process, the jury listened to the competitors blindly, until the last day of the three-day final round! For both the preliminary round and the semifinal round, the judges were behind a curtain and could not see who was performing. For the three-day final round, the jury was able to watch the competitors perform on the last day only.
The competition received applications from 11 different countries from around world and the preliminary jury passed eight competitors to the semifinal round, which took place at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore on September 21. Semifinalists were: Pedro Aguiar (Brazil), Michael Butten (UK); Riccardo Calogiuri (Italy), Andrzej Grygier (Poland), Yunzhe Lin (China), Erika Otani (Japan), Marko Topchii (Ukraine), and Tengyue Zhang (China). However, only six semifinalists arrived in Baltimore for the semifinal round, because both Lin from China and Erika Otani from Japan resigned for health reasons.
After a long day of listening to wonderful performances in the semifinal round, the jury—made up of guitarists Meng Su, Franco Platino, Thomas Viloteau, Michael Newman, and Jason Vieaux—chose Michael Butten, Andrzej Grygier, and Marko Topchii to advance to the final round, held September 23–25.
Artistic director Barrueco and the competition committee decided on a different approach to the final round, as well as the approach to judging: The competitors had to play different repertoire, three consecutive nights, in three different halls! The first day took place in the 380-seat Linehan Concert Hall at UMBC. The second day took place in a 500-seat concert hall at Towson University. And the third and last day of the final round took place in the 700-seat Friedberg Hall at the Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University.
Maestro Barrueco also wanted to make sure that the competitors could play standard repertoire and the competition had several obligatory pieces so that the audience in the hall could hear different versions of the same piece. The first day, all competitors had to play Bach. The competition wanted to make sure that the competitors understood the Baroque style and wanted to see their approach different dance movements of a suite. They also had to play Sor’s Variations on a Theme by Mozart so that the judges could hear the competitors’ approach to the Classical period, and how they would handle musical variations.
The second day, all competitors had to play Capricho Arabe and a tremolo piece, Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios. The second night the competitors had to choose 20 minutes from the Romantic period to perform. The finalists had very different approaches to this challenge: Grygier chose to play Antonio Jose’s Sonata; Butten chose a Fantasia by Legnani and Turina’s Sonata; and Topchii chose pieces by Roussel, Ponce, a second tremolo piece, Sueño en la Floresta, by Barrios, and Tarrega’s Carnival of Venice.
For the final day, set pieces for the competitors were Villa-Lobos’ Etude 1 and Etude 7, and Prelude 3. These works were chosen for their technical difficulties and musical style. The competition wanted to see if the competitors understood the music of Villa-Lobos, who is perhaps the most important composer for the instrument in the 20th century, and how they would interpret that style.
In addition to the set pieces, the competitors had to perform 20-minutes of music of their own choice from the 20th century until today. Again, the finalists had very different approaches to this challenge: Butten chose Britten’s Nocturnal; Topchii chose La Grand Sarabanda by Brouwer and Rodrigo’s Toccata; and Grygier chose the Sonata by Roberto Sierra; all very difficult and challenging pieces.
The international jury for the three-day final round was made up of prominent musicians from around the world: Grammy-winning violinist Saul Bitran (Mexico); harpist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Elizabeth Hainen (USA); guitarist Thomas Müller-Pering (Germany); Grammy-winning lutenist Paul O’Dette (USA); famed flute soloist Marina Piccinini (Switzerland); guitarist Meng Su (China) and Fabio Zanon (Brazil).
Because of the blind judging, the Final Round jury had not been allowed to see any of the performances, they had listened behind a curtain. But for the third and last day, they were able to watch the performances like the rest of the audience in the hall.
After deliberations, the jury decided on the order:
- 1st Prize: Andrzej Grygier
- 2nd Prize: Marko Topchii
- 3rd Prize: Michael Butten
- Audience Prize: Marko Topchii
The entire competition was streamed live on the Baltimore Classical Guitar YouTube channel, and below we present the first and third rounds of the finals competition: