International classical guitar competitions

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Although competitions are not the only way to establish oneself as a talented musician, they can serve various beneficial purposes. Namely, they allow young artists to promote themselves and gain exposure. Furthermore, they increase public awareness of the arts and the Classical Guitar itself. Some competitions also have newly composed "set" pieces which serve to increase the repertoire of the instrument.

Thoughts on competitions[edit]

  • Denis Azabagić has written: "Competitions give you a very valuable experience. Do they guide in your artistic development? I do not know if it benefits the guitarist in that area, but I think it does benefit the student because it helps him to set goals under pressure (having a deadline). This creates a great deal of stress, which you will have to learn how to deal with. To perform live in front of a jury is something that requires some training. Finally, if you are successful at winning competitions, this will help you to promote your name in the guitar circle, you will start to be noticed. I think winning competitions helps you build a name but does not help much to develop your artistry."[1]
  • In this interview recorded in early 2002, Azabagic stresses that while competitions were very good to him, competitions can be also be devastating to worthy musicians who never seem to win.[2]

Modern criticism of guitar competitions is actually quite common. Some criticisms are that they are often judged by unqualified judges, that reward people for being technically proficient without regard to musicality. But concerning the judging of musicality, this is in itself controversial, as the question arises, on how to judge art on any objective level.[3]

  • John Williams has said: "[...] basically I don't like or approve of competitions on any instrument. I don't think music can be evaluated like a race - I know that's an obvious thing to say and that there are many ifs and buts involved, because they do help some artists and concentrate the public's attention on music. But I particularly don't like the way many guitar competitions are run, the confusing way points are awarded differently in each round of a competition, and especially the over-exploitation of the "Big Winner" and the competitive values that puts on players and the activity of guitar playing itself. Winning is a matter of taste in most cases, and there are often many other equally deserving competitors other than just the First Prize recipient. I feel it would be fairer to have a select group of finalists, each of whom receives the same award and status.
    I have served on juries in the past, but these days I refuse to take part, and I feel it is important to take that stand otherwise your reservations have no meaning. Having said all that, I know it happens anyway and sometimes there is sponsorship involved which does help the general public interest and support. But it still doesn't need to be a cut and dried thing, where each finalist is ranked as precisely as 1,2,3. I think it is those competitive values that are wrong, not the celebration of excellence in music as such. I have talked about the idea of setting up a competition where this other approach is used, but nothing definite has emerged from it yet; it may take some time to develop."

Analysis of data at a piano competition, with many high level participants, has made it doubtful that judges are able to make fully objective judgements; because there was a small correlation between the order of appearance of participants and their ranking:

  • We find that the order and timing of appearance at the competition are good predictors of the final ranking. [...] Because of this, order and timing are unique instrumental variables for the final ranking, which we consistently find to have a significant impact on later success, irrespective of the finalists’ true quality. Pianists with high scores are more likely to see their work recorded later on. It is also worth pointing out that the opinion of music critics is more influenced by the ranking than by the quality of the performers. This is not necessarily surprising, since there are many musicians who may have been good during the competition, but have vanished afterwards, leaving the critics recollections unaffected.
    The conclusion that it pays to do well in the competition is strongly supported by the data. However, the fact that judges’ rankings are affected by order and timing of appearance in a competition needs to be stressed, and sheds some doubt on their ability to cast fully objective judgments.

On the other hand, if a competition has many professional-level artistic participants, it may not even be possible to make an objective judgement of who is "best"; because: given numerous professional-level artistic performers, there may not even be room for the concept of comparison; since this presumes the existence of a "best" interpretation, which is itself questionable (and would be a commercialization of art; viewing it from a mass-consumption or absolutist point of view).

  • Timothy Kain has said: "The competition perhaps symbolizes more than any other aspect of music, the commercially, the competitive nature of music making today. I don't think that they are a good sign. I think that they exist and are proliferating is symptomatic of something wrong, rather like the CO2 levels in the atmosphere and these other insidious things which seem to whittle away our world. Somehow these are symptomatic of something similar happening in the music world, a type of musical pollution for want of a better world."[6]

Some advanced[7] guitarists have written about their guitar festival and competition experiences.[8][9][10]

List of international competitions for classical guitar[edit]

Most classical guitar competitions take place during guitar festivals, and therefore the competition event can be attended by the general public, as audience.

  • US and Americas
Competition Name Town Country Last year active
Guitar Foundation of America International Concert Artist Competition (ICAC) New every year USA 2014
JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition Buffalo, New York USA 2014
Wilson Center Guitar Competition & Festival Wisconsin USA 2014
  • Europe
Competition Name Town Country Last year active
Alhambra International Guitar Competition Valencia Spain
Andrés Segovia International Guitar Competition Almuñecar Spain 2014
International Guitar Competition Fernando Sor Rome Italy 2014
International Guitar Competition Maurizio Biasini (biennial: odd years) Bologna and Basel Italy and Switzerland 2013
International Guitar Competition Mauro Giuliani Bari Italy 2004
Michele Pittaluga International Classical Guitar Competition Alessandria Italy 2014
International Guitar Competition Rene Bartoli Aix-en-Provence France 2006
International Classical Guitar Competition Stefano Strata - città di Pisa Pisa Italy 2014
International Guitar Competition Berlin Berlin Germany
Iserlohn International Guitar Competition Villigst and Iserlohn Germany
Gevelsberg Guitar Competition Gevelsberg Germany
Koblenz International Guitar Competition Koblenz Germany
International Guitar Competition Nürtingen (biennial: even years) Nürtingen Germany
International Competition for Young Guitarists «Andrés Segovia» Velbert Germany
International Guitar Competition Heinsberg (biennial: odd years) Heinsberg Germany
Terra Siculorum International Classical Guitar Festival and Competition Odorheiu Secuiesc Romania
Transilvania International Classical Guitar Competition Cluj-Napoca Romania
Twents Gitaar Festival Enschede Netherlands
World Guitar Competition Novi Sad Serbia
  • Asia
Competition Name Town Country Last year active
Calcutta International Classical Guitar Festival & Competition Kolkata India 2014
Tokyo International Guitar Competition Tokyo Japan 2014



  1. ^ Interview with Cavatina Duo
  2. ^ "Music Competitions/Interviews: Azabagic, Evans/Madriguera, Kanengiser, Tennant, Vieaux"; Classical guitar alive; October 16, 2007
  3. ^ Competitions are not meant for music
  4. ^ John Williams Interview with Austin Prichard-Levy
  5. ^ Expert Opinion and Compensation: Evidence from a Musical Competition by Victor A. Ginsburgh and Jan C. van Ours (2002)
  6. ^ Timothy Kain - An Interview; Australian Guitar Journal
  7. ^ busy with Masters or PhD studies
  8. ^ Harold Gretton (1); Guitar News, January 2007 (Newsletter of the Classical Guitar Society Sydney)
  9. ^ Harold Gretton (2); Guitar News, December 2007 (Newsletter of the Classical Guitar Society Sydney)
  10. ^ Bradley Kunda; Guitar News, December 2008 (Newsletter of the Classical Guitar Society Sydney)

Further reading[edit]