As the Columbus State University Guitar Symposium celebrates its 11th year, founder Andrew Zohn expresses amazement.
“I didn’t know I would be here 11 years,” Zohn said.
Zohn, professor of guitar at the Schwob School of Music, began the symposium in 2000 after a similar one shut down in Alabama. In his first year teaching at CSU, Zohn decided to revive the symposium here.
“It’s kind of crazy,” he said. “It’s alive and well. It’s made its place into the working calendar of classical guitarists from around the world.”
That first year, the symposium had fewer than 40 participants. This year, Zohn expects at least 120.
A recruiting tool
One of the reasons Zohn puts so much time into the symposium is that it’s a perfect recruiting tool. Started as a college and graduate student competition, it has expanded to give high school and middle school students a chance to perform for professional guitarists to judge.
“One of the reasons we did this is to show them (the high school and younger kids) the facility and show the school and for prospective students to meet me,” Zohn said.
Most of his 12 current CSU students came to the Guitar Symposium before choosing to attend CSU, he said.
Who is performing?
During the symposium, Zohn holds auditions for those considering entering CSU in the fall.
This weekend, as usual, Zohn has performers in concert Saturday and Sunday. Someone new to Columbus is Carlos Pérez of Chile.
“He is a world-class artist,” Zohn said. “We’re really fortunate to get him here. It’s a real treat.”
Other guest artists include SoloDuo, the Italian pair of Matteo Mela and Lorenzo Micheli; Duo Spiritoso, with Zohn and Canadian guitarist Jeffrey McFadden; and Elliot Frank.
Zohn met Frank at a guitar festival and became friends with him.
“I really marvel how he plays,” Zohn said. “I’ve wanted to find a space for him for years. This year was the year.”
The guest artists will be in Columbus for about four days, conducting master classes and working extensively with Zohn’s students.
He said a dozen students is a good number for him. It means he has three guitar quartets.
For Mark Edwards, it’s a homecoming of sorts. He studied under Zohn until he graduated from CSU in 2007.
Edwards, now married to opera singer Jennifer Edwards, is currently studying at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
“It’s pretty well known,” Edwards said of the symposium. He competed in it several times while studying here.
Edwards got married last August, and they are both applying for Fullbright grants to allow them to study in Switzerland. After that, he plans to work on his Ph.D.
At the symposium, he’ll play the first movement of a piece by Sergio Assad called “Aquarelle.”
Another Zohn student, Todd Holcomb is currently working on his artist’s diploma.
Holcomb said he specifically came to CSU to study with Zohn.
“I’ve been coming to the symposium for four years,” he said. “Now, I go here and I don’t have to travel.”
He and several of the other graduate students will be working and performing at the symposium this weekend.
“We’ll be busy all day long Saturday,” Holcomb said. “Sunday as well.”
Besides registering the competitors, the two have to cover the front desk to answer any questions.
Holcomb will be playing a Renaissance piece by Francesco da Milano and a piece by Hungarian composer Johann Mertz.
And who’s his biggest competitor?
“All my friends, I guess,” he said.
The symposium doesn’t mark the last of guitar events. David Russell, born in Scotland and reared in Spain, will perform in a Legacy Live! concert on March 23. Then on May 2 is the Guitar Ensemble concert that will feature “Suite Brasiliera,” written by Sergio Assad of the Assad Brothers. CSU commissioned the piece.
“He wrote it for three guitars,” Zohn said. “He’ll spend a weekend here working with the students. I’m so excited. This is three years worth of work in the making.
“It’s a very big year for guitar this year,” Zohn said.
Next summer will be another big year for guitar in Columbus.
The national meeting of the Guitar Foundation of America will be June 28-July 3, 2011. It will be the second time the meeting has been in Columbus. Zohn is already working on lining up guest artists for that event.