It’s called the New York Guitar Seminar at Mannes because, well, it is all those things, but the really hard part to quantify is why this distinguished institution, acquired in the last few years by the New School University, would surface as the place for summertime Guitar Critical Mass. Columbia University figures in the mix, but that’s not enough. We tend to think Juilliard or perhaps the Manhattan School of Music would be likely sites. Track record, relationship of top rank players to the institutions, and time-in-grade are all-important factors. Yet times are changing, and those things don’t matter as much any more.

From June 29 to July 3, 2005, a majority of the big-time classic guitar players and teachers in the United States were in NYC for the 5th Annual Seminar. The theme was “El Maestro/Tradition Of The Masters,” with a special tribute and lifetime achievement award presented to Bruce Holzman, Associate Professor of Guitar at the Florida State University College of Music for the past 32 years. That meant the cream of U.S. guitar teachers were invited to teach master classes, perform concerts, give lectures, and ultimately pay homage to Holzman. This faculty consisted of America’s top competition winners, concert artists, and university professors in the classic guitar world. Coincidentally, all those artists are in some way related to Holzman – as former students or lifelong colleagues.

The concert roster had altitude: Eliot Fisk, Ricardo Cobo, the Newman & Oltman Guitar Duo, Adam Holzman, Ricardo Iznaola, Stephen Robinson, William Carter, and multi-style champion Michael Chapdelaine. At each concert more and more familiar faces turned up in the audience. Many old classmates and colleagues from FSU came to pay their respects including Greg Cross, Bob Texara, pianist Linda Mark, and Jeffrey Rossman who is a quasi music educator, guitarist, computer programmer, lawyer, cellist and alleged writer (for CVNC…). Yale guitar teacher Benjamin Verdery and long-time NYC guitarist Jorge Morel were celebrities.

The teaching roster, with its own panorama, was equally rarified. All of the above taught master classes, and in addition to those, master classes were given by Bruce Holzman (3), Roger Allen Cope (2), Oren Fader, Arthur Kampela, and Lily Afshar. Many also coached a few or all of the seven student ensembles during the week.

These artists are represented on a staggering array of recording labels: Summit Records, Archer Records, DG, Phillips, Decca, EMI, Virgin, Hyperion, Chandos, Sony, Channel, Harmonia Mundi, Time-Life Music, ESSAY/Allegro, NAXOS, Ellipsis Arts, Angel/EMI, Sonari, Musical Heritage Society, Good International, Arabesque, Promus, Belter, Columbia, IGW, Luthier, MusicMasters/BMG, Sheffield Lab, Audiophile, Centaur, and Lakeside.

There were lectures by Ricardo Iznaola (on Technical Awareness), William Carter (Baroque Performance Practice), Matthew Dunne (Jazz Arrangement Techniques), and Leo Welch (The Value of Informed Performance). Mannes faculty member Christopher Park presented a lecture titled “Déjà Vu All Over Again: Approaching Repetition in 19th-century Musical Forms.” Joel Lester, Dean of the Mannes School of Music and a violinist, delivered a riveting lecture on J.S. Bach’s violin music, which is a staple of the guitar repertoire.

Particularly lively was a Thursday morning panel discussion on “Trends in Pedagogy: Source Materials for Effective Teaching and Learning,” moderated by Seminar co-founder Laura Oltman (Princeton). The panel included B. Holzman (FSU), A. Holzman (U.T. Austin), Chapdelaine (U. New Mexico), Afshar (U. Memphis), Welch (Asst. Dean FSU), and Cope (Brevard College). This group, representing the broadest possible cross-section of curricula in U.S. schools, touched on many of the problems as well as innovative solutions in contemporary applied pedagogy with interesting, relevant, and at times humorous discussion. The major point to come from this group may not impact students at all for quite some time. Namely, it’s a concept; the need for teachers to be alert for socio/cultural influenced changes in student attitudes, trends in student interest, and contemporary industry demands that may require curriculum adjustments in order to sustain previous technique assimilation levels. Said differently: don’t rest on your laurels, and pay attention!

The faculty represented the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, New England Conservatory, Princeton, Mannes, the FSU College of Music, the Universities of Memphis, New Mexico, and Texas/Austin, Brevard College, Marshall and Stetson Universities, the Manhattan School of Music, and the University of Denver Lamont School of Music.

Guitar maker Thomas Humphrey, innovator and designer of the groundbreaking Millennium-style classic guitar, and William Kramer-Harrison, maker of steel-string western-style guitars for pop music’s most famous names, were present to discuss the care, feeding, and acoustic properties of their instruments. Humphrey recalled that upon the introduction of the Millennium guitar in the early 80s he was less than satisfied with the results. B. Holzman’s encouragement, faith in the sound, and frequent advice prompted him to continue building the instruments and ultimately they became the industry standard, played by every major classical guitarist of consequence, worldwide.

There were 60 full-time students/participants from around the world, including Russia, the United Kingdom, Bermuda, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Canada, Puerto Rico, and nearly half the United States. Students from Brazil and Russia tied for longest travel. On the faculty side, William Carter, who came from London, England, took the distance prize.

Commercial sponsors included Mel Bay Publications, Inc., Robert Olmsted Recordings, the radio network Classical Guitar Alive, Musical Heritage Society, Guitar Salon International, Classical Guitar Magazine and Supporting foundations and non-profits included the D’Addario Foundation for the Performing Arts, the Augustine foundation, the New York City Classical Guitar Society, Florida State University, Columbia University, and the Americas Society. Saturday and Sunday activities were located at Columbia University’s Dodge Hall, Lerner Hall, and Philosophy Hall, located adjacent to the Library, with its famous quote of origin along the proscenium.**

Laura Oltman, Michael Newman, and Mexican guitarist Mariano Aguirre were responsible for creating and then managing this incredible collection of timed events and creative faculty. Newman seemed to bear the brunt of detail management, the various disasters associated with large groups of people, near-constant interruption, and lack of sleep. His approach was to charge ahead with wit and humor, expert attention to detail, and a highly-polished sense of improvisation. Basically, when things changed, he told everyone where to stand. They did. It worked.

Michael Newman is a graduate of Mannes and is now on the faculty there. Oltman is a native of Florida and a graduate of FSU under B. Holzman. The Newman & Oltman Duo has a performance schedule of roughly 50 concerts a year in addition to their teaching duties and perpetual restoration of their 19th-century house on the Delaware River in NJ. They stay busy. To my knowledge, planning for this event started at least ten years ago. It was a good idea, allowed to simmer and develop, and over time the odds of success became greater with each artist’s new achievement. Newman and Holzman met when they were both teenagers and had adjacent lessons with Albert Valdes-Blain in NYC. Perhaps this helps to explain the genesis of Guitar Critical Mass. Planning for the next New York Guitar Seminar at Mannes, likely to be July 5-9, 2006, started a year ago.

Some measure of the event’s importance in the artistic world can be taken from the announcement in Friday’s New York Times (7/1/2005, pg. E25), where the New York Guitar Seminar was listed with Tanglewood, the Caramoor Festival in Westchester County, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic, among others. That’s fairly stout company, but then go back and look at some of the credits for this thing. It was pretty stout on its own.

*The author, a distinguished guitarist and a critic for CVNC, has been here, there, and everywhere this summer.

**The inscription reads, in part, “King’s College Founded in the Province of New York by Royal Charter in the Reign of George II. Perpetuated as Columbia College by the People of the State of New York when They Became Free and Independent.”