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Havana International Guitar Festival and Contest

guitarraJesús Ortega, president of the 15th Havana International Guitar Festival and Contest, noted, “Any event that brings together global figures such as Gismonti, Pepe Romero and Eliot Fisk, is of enormous importance, because they are role models, not by copying them, but for their world class performance, even of the simplest things.”

Speaking with GI, the instrumentalist and pedagogue added: “Secondly, it allows the personalities who visit us, like the composer David del Puerto and the promoter Diego Martínez, to appreciate the importance of culture in Cuba, where it is not a luxury, but central to the development of the country.”

His analysis of the impact of the Festival and Contest went further. “It influences the musicians and the public, because learning to listen to high quality music means we are going to leave improved, as it imbues us with a thirst for perfection.”

When questioned as to whether the fact that we have an International Festival indicates that the guitar in Cuba is both nationally and internationally recognized,Ortega responded: “That’s right, it has an excellent position. Internationally we have our great teacher, Leo Brouwer, iconic all-time figure of the guitar culture. In my personal opinion, he is the greatest musician that Cuba has produced to this day.”

This guitar festival was created precisely by Brouwer, a composer, conductor and guitarist, back in the 1980s. After a long break, the event made an outstanding comeback this year.


As Ortega told Cuban composer Juan Piñera, “Young people with impressive talent performed.” The jury was presided by Jesús Ortega himself, and included Piñera and Cuban guitarist Marco Tamayo; the composer David del Puerto, president of the Andres Segovia International Classical Guitar Competition, and Diego Martínez, both from Spain; and German pedagogue Karl Heinz.

There were a total of 16 participants from Poland, Spain, France, Germany, Romania, Costa Rica and Cuba, who during three rounds, held in the Semicircle of the National Museum of Fine Arts’ World Art building, and the theater of its Cuban Art building, had to perform baroque, Cuban, Latin American, virtuoso, and sonata pieces.

During the awards ceremony held in the Covarrubias Hall of the National Theater, the jury revealed that it had awarded the Second Prize and the Isaac Nicola Award to Carlos Miguel Ledea, a student of Cuba’s Higher Institute of the Arts, who received, among other rewards, a guitar specially built by the luthier David Chávez.

The first prize was shared between Spain’s Javier García Verdugo (a graduate of the Madrid Royal Conservatory and the University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar, currently undertaking a Master’s degree at the University of Music and Dramatic Arts Mozarteum Salzburg); and the Romanian-German Mircea Stefan Gogoncea (with a resume that includes 165 awards and studies in Dusseldorf and the Royal Academy in London).


Brazilian composer, pianist and guitarist Egberto Gismonti shared his happiness on attending the Festival with GI.

He used his ten-string guitar during the concert and explained: “It’s ten strings because I was originally a pianist. In guitar we need two hands for a sound, pressure and a capo. I was trained as a pianist, where each hand does a different thing, so I imagined that other chords would be perfect and I found a ten-string guitar. I started to practice and began changing the position of the strings, sharps with bass. The guitar is complex. Little by little I was transforming it, and it was also changing my way of playing the piano.”

All the pieces he played in the concert were his own compositions, with voice and piano added. “Each piece of music of mine is supported by a story. Each record of the many I have recorded, 70 in total, has a name linked with something from Brazilian culture. I do not make music just because I like a combination of notes, I am a composer for movies (38 films), ballet (35 pieces), theater (30 pieces), and in those 70 albums I always have songs, with lyrics by great poets. At this point in my life, I come to a guitar festival and I include voice and piano. That’s just me.”


Pepe Romero gave his first concert at the age of seven alongside his father, Celedonio Romero, an important guitarist and his only teacher. Today he is recognized worldwide as one of the great virtuosos of the classical guitar.

His concert, in the Covarrubias Hall, saw him perform much of the best of his extensive repertoire. Thus it was possible to enjoy compositions by Ángel Barrios, Granado, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Fernando Sor, Joaquín Rodrigo, Joaquín Turina and his father Celedonio Romero.

Romero told GI that this Festival “is a marvel and it fills me with joy that maestro Ortega has resumed it, because Cuba and the guitar are very connected and here there are great talents.”

The Spaniard added, “The guitar is an instrument that is not only listened to, but felt when you touch it, embrace it, it vibrates in your arms and goes very deep, and nowadays thanks to the effort of so many great guitarists it occupies a central place in the music world.”

Asked about the current importance awarded the guitar in the cultural world, Romero noted: “More than importance, the guitar has a mission, because the guitar, as García Lorca said, is like a spider that weaves its web to capture sighs. In these times of so much confusion, of so many problems, of so much technology, digitalization, and such a busy life, the guitar is that peace and beautiful sound that enhances you and leads you to find yourself with your own spirit.”

The 15th Havana International Guitar Festival and Contest included seven concerts in the Basílica Menor del Convento de San Francisco de Asís and the Covarrubias Hall, with performances by Eliot Fisk of the U.S., the Brazilian Egberto Gismonti and Spain’s Pepe Romero, three global guitar stars; and by the Cubans Ariadna Cuellar, Eduardo and Galy Martín, Marco Tamayo, Ali Arango, the Dúo Concuerda, and the Nuestro Tiempo ensemble.

The program allowed audiences to enjoy works by Fernando Sor, Leo Brouwer, Manuel Ponce, Jesus Ortega, Heitor Villa-Lobos and Radamés Gnatalli, just to name a few. A beautiful event that concluded with the welcome announcement by maestro Jesus Ortega of the 16th edition, scheduled to take place in 2020.


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