IC hosts world's only Russian guitar festival


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There is only one Russian Guitar Festival in the world — right here in Iowa City.

This weekend, the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids area will welcome international artists to perform and teach about this rare and forgotten instrument.

The festival is hosted by the International Academy for Russian Music, Arts, and Culture. The event will bring Russian guitar virtuosi from across the globe for performances and teaching seminars.

The Russian guitar flourished during the first half of the 19th century, but it has since lost popularity. The Russian Guitar Festival works to both preserve the early tradition of the instrument and to revive the instrument by performing recently composed works.

"I spent 15 years searching the Russian archives searching for [music]" said Oleg Timofeyev, a cofounder and artistic director of the International Academy for Russian Music. "All of it is in my basement, here in Iowa City— that's the preserving part of it. We also perform new pieces, trying to show the Russian guitar with the variety of gypsy music, Russian music, and folk music, there are many traditions associated with this guitar.

The festival this weekend will take place at a number of venues in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.

Admission for shows is $12 for the general public, $8 for students and seniors.

Timofeyev, originally from Russia, holds a Ph.D. in early music performance, has recorded albums featuring him on both guitar and lute, and he was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship twice in the past 10 years to support his research.

"It is true that not all old music is immediately appealing," he said. "But in this case it is very interesting. There is a full-blown Russian guitar tradition as large as the Spanish guitar tradition. There are very sophisticated uses of the instrument, and very interesting techniques."

UI Associate Professor Sabine Gölz, a cofounder and executive director of the International Academy for Russian Music, explained that six years ago, when the festival was in its first year, it was nothing more than a seminar in experts in the field were given opportunities to teach about this rich and forgotten tradition.

Eventually, the concerts became as, or perhaps more, important.

"Our Russian musical tradition is quite interesting in many directions, from classical to folk, and I think the American people should be more familiar with it," Russian-Roma guitarist Vadim Kolpakov, an artist who will travel to Iowa this weekend to perform. "Americans should know that there is such a thing as the Russian seven-string guitar, which is a musical instrument with a large repertoire, equal to the American national guitar that we admire in folk music and jazz.

Gölz recognizes the strong musical tradition with the guitar in the United States, but she explains that the two instruments have a very different style.

"Many artists play the guitar like a machine gun, incredibly technically polished," she said. "But the Russian guitar is a completely different ethos. It's a softer, more romantic, more expressive way of playing guitar. It's a different style, a different tuning, and it has different possibilities."

While Gölz and her colleagues understand the importance of the Russian guitar, they want others to value what it can offer to the music world.

"People say, 'We already have a guitar — why do we need this other guitar?' " Gölz said. "Well, because it's sort of like ecology in the world. There are different species we need, like the horse and the zebra. It's about variety."

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