It’s the 25th year of the Northwest Guitar Festival and the fourth time the event has been held in Moscow. This year will also offer the opportunity to hear an electric guitar played at an event for classical guitars.The three-day festival begins at 9 a.m. Friday at the Lionel Hampton School of Music on the University of Idaho campus. It was started 25 years ago by James Reid, a professor of guitar and music history at UI, in order to provide students better access to a festival experience. It moves around to different locations in the Northwest, but its three main elements — competitions, concerts and classes — remain the same.
Though the festival is open to “anyone who is a serious guitar fan,” Reid said, the focus has always been on classical guitar. That said, there will be an electric guitar sighting, thanks to Michael Nicolella, who is performing at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Nicolella is a nationally acclaimed classical guitarist and composer who also teaches at the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle.
Nicolella conceded that when people hear “guitar,” a classical guitar isn’t what comes to mind — “It’s Jimi Hendrix and his stratocaster.”
And while it’s by no means standard, the electric guitar is carving out a place in the contemporary classical scene. Not only does the electric guitar hold its own from a volume standpoint, Nicolella said, there’s a variety of timbre and color that comes with an electric, which a growing number of contemporary composers are using in their musical palette.
The electric guitar may be associated with rock music and the classical with classical music, but Nicolella said it doesn’t have to be. “You can have a blank canvas with either.”
That concept is seen not only in the way he moves between both instruments, but also how he moves between genres. What interests him as a musician, both as a performer and composer, is stretching the boundaries of what the guitar can do — even if it means the lines between genres become blurred.
“There’s such a wide variety of music to listen to, it’d be strange to say I’m not going to play anything more than Bach,” Nicolella said.
Friday’s program will reflect that exploration. The “ridiculously varied program,” he said, will include what might seem like an unconventional mix. J.S. Bach and Jimi Hendrix aren’t typically featured alongside each other, but both of them — along with the other pieces and composers the program will include — were considered to stretch the boundaries of what the guitar was previously thought to be capable of doing.
“It’s an extension of what playing classical guitar is in the 21st century,” Nicolella said. “Classical music is not a museum, it’s not something that happened in the past. It’s something that’s happening now.”
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Northwest Guitar Festival
WHEN: Competitions, classes and concerts take place daily beginning at 9 a.m. Friday and ending at 3 p.m. Sunday. Evening concerts are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday. A full schedule is available at northwestguitarfestival.org
WHERE: Lionel Hampton School of Music on the University of Idaho campus in Moscow
COST: $125/adults for a three-day pass, $50/students 18 and younger for a three-day pass, $50/one-day pass, no charge to observe competitions. Evening concerts are $5/adults or $3/students. Event registration, day passes and tickets are available beginning at 8:30 a.m. Friday at the Lionel Hampton School of Music.