Arts

One of the three gala concerts held as part of the conference. Photo: Jen Duncan

Gathering highlights guitar and electroacoustic music along with contemporary composers and pedagogy

Guitar music in the 21st century is eclectic, diverse and pushing boundaries, as shown by a conference held at the University of Ottawa over the weekend. 

The conference, fittingly named The 21st Century Guitar Conference, sought to explore and critically analyze composition, pedagogy and performance for guitar in this century. The conference had a specific goal of examining skill acquisition and pedagogy, but it also highlighted contemporary guitar compositions. 

Conference organizer Amy Brandon, a PhD candidate at Dalhousie University who also works with Dr. Gilles Comeau of the U of O’s Piano Pedagogy Lab, said that she kept the call for papers to the 21st century. 

“Broadly, the theme was guitar cognition and technology,” Brandon said. “What I wanted to do was shine a spotlight on the current work that’s being done in guitar, both from a compositional point of view, a performance point of view and an academic point of view.” 

While much of the academic side of the conference explored the study of guitar and educational techniques, the performance side centred heavily around the use of technology and electronics in composition. 

“What I wanted to do in particular was look at contemporary composition and specifically works involving technology, electroacoustics live or fixed and other elements of technology,” Brandon said.  

Bridget Mermikides performs as part of the conference. Photo: Jen Duncan

When Brandon put out the call for papers with that emphasis on technology, she knew she’d get exactly what she was looking for — an up-to-the-minute overview of where classical guitar music is at right now. 

“I knew it was going to give me the kind of music and papers that I wanted. I knew that if I did a call for pieces for guitar and technology, we would not be receiving requests to perform music from one hundred, two hundred years ago,” said Brandon.  

Performances ranged from projectionist Kurt Laurenz Theinert setting up a dazzling light display in Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre, to the Cowan-Cicchellitti duo performing nine new pieces by a collective of young composers called ICEBERG New Music to commissioned pieces played by a double guitar orchestra of electric and classical guitarists. 

Another highlight from the weekend was an over-six-hour guitar music marathon performed by forty different musicians. 

The close relationship between guitarists and electronic composers in Canada was also an area explored by the conference. 

Brandon noted that within experimental music, many guitar composers have collaborated with electronic artists. To put it into perspective, Brandon managed to program a six-hour guitar and electroacoustic music marathon of only Canadian music. 

“One of the things that surprised me is how deep the connection is between guitarists and electronic composers in Canada,” said Brandon. 

“In Canada, in particular, there’s this deep, deep history between guitarists and free improvisers and experimental composers, and it continues up to the present day. I was blown away that we were able to program six hours of music of just Canadian composers and guitar.”

That Canadian perspective was something Brandon pushed for because she was so interested in this long relationship between electroacoustic composers and guitarists and wanted to put a spotlight on it. 

The U of O’s 21st Century Guitar Conference is the first in a series exploring all aspects of contemporary guitar music. The 2020 edition is slated for Portugal, and the organizers are looking for hosts for 2021 and 2022. 

Part of the conference was held in Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre. Photo: Amy Brandon.