“The Big Night of the Guitar” at Kings Place last night proved to be just that, delivering even more than it had promised. We all owe Tom Kerstens a huge debt of gratitude for having indefatigably, year-in, year out, brought all this together.
Ticket holders for the main concert were offered complimentary seats for the final of the prestigious IGF competition won, initially, in 1995 by none other than the day’s evening star, Ana Vidovic. It is with absolute joy that I can report that the winner was Emmanuel Sowicz, a fine and unassuming guitarist, currently flying higher and higher under Michael Lewin’s wing at the Royal Academy of Music. It had been heart-breaking this year to see him pipped to the post by the narrowest of margins to the David Russell Prize. Russell himself was in equal measure elated and saddened by his Prize-Presenter’s duty, offering Emmanuel Second Prize but following it with a wonderfully generous gesture, lending to the runner-up for an indeterminate period one of his Dammann guitars. And it is with this wondrous newly-wed instrument that Sowicz conquered yesterday. His Bach was very pure with scintillatingly precise ornamentation, but it was his spellbindingly evocative Takemitsu that won him the glittering prize.
In the main concert, Giacomo Susani took the house by storm. We knew he was a great guitarist, but the revelation last night was that he has become a “performer” in the highest octane sense of the word. A slight and slender figure Giacomo may be, but he took the bull by the horns and hurled it at his audience - forgive the vehemence of the metaphor. Giacomo’s Girolamo (Frescobaldi) was mesmerising in its understated delicacy and set the scene for the explosive show of virtuosity that was to follow: Sor’s Gran Solo, op. 14 where all the guitaristic stops were pulled. His virtuosity could have become frenzied as he became possessed with the fire of a performance which still managed to retain all the required romanticism but threatened to set his fingers alight; in the middle section, he played the ascending scales so fast that one feared he might burn his bridges and that the descent might be catastrophic but he never lost his stirrups as, instead, with unmitigated energy, he burned the ebony to the deepest ivory black.
He followed this with Pasieczny’s Tate Sonata, written specially for Giacomo (what a treat, and what an honour!) evoking four artworks currently in Tate Modern. The guitar world should be proud that the repertoire can be extended with such colossal works and has young players capable to do them justice, constantly adding rich qualities and colours to an instrumental palette which seems inexhaustible.
I once ignored a pot of boiling milk, then saw its irresistible flare-up, but that was nothing like the eruption of the house who knew they had just witnessed a birth they would never forget. In the fourth row, Giacomo’s mother was in tears, his father speechless with emotion.
After the King, the Queen. There’s nothing much left to write about our instrument’s Diva. Yet, there are niggles of regret, just here and there. The same old repertoire, played in the same old way. I have to say, I also thought there were signs of battle-fatigue; the body a little uninvolved while the hands continued to wring their fabled magic with sometimes some systematic appoyandos which seemed to come out of the blue, as if somehow to wake herself up lest she succumbed to the narcosis of routine. We’ve had the master bored with mastery with Williams. Now we are in danger of witnessing the virtuoso bored with too much ease. Still, you cannot take it away from her, she is a stunning player and a consummate professional.
There was a neat and amusing trick for an encore. Unusually for a classical player, she asked the audience if there were any requests. Fusing from every corner, we heard “Villa-Lobos, La Catedral, Asturias, Barrios” … I hope I won’t disillusion any of my readers, but the encore was indeed a foregone conclusion, she knew that Asturias would be among the requests … Somewhat disingenuously, she ventured “Quite a lot of choice there … would you like to hear Asturias?” And while the bulk of the audience thought “NO”, she said “Alright, I’ll play Asturias!” Surprise, surprise!
So, a grand experience to have witnessed the Susani/Vidovic pairing; what was particularly striking was, in these days of gender-bending-mending-tending-rending-vending-stretching, two artists who have, respectively, fully developed the opposite side of their gender: Susani having embellished the forthright masculine aspects of his playing with a rich and unashamed femininity, and Vidovic adding to the “Venus-feminine” a muscularity which reinforces her supple feline musical vision.