From candlelit concerts to a full programme addressing climate change, there are some wonderful things happening over at The Stoller Hall this year, many of them firsts for the venue. The inaugural Manchester Guitar Festival is among spring’s highlights. Taking in classical, jazz, acoustic, electric and flamenco, the three-day festival will feature some of the finest guitar music talent from around the world, including Sean Shibe, Daniel Martinez and Craig Ogden, alongside many rising stars. There’ll also be talks and workshops led by leading figures in guitar music, Spanish-themed food and drink stalls and early years activities spanning storytelling, music and art.
Kicking off the live concerts on Friday 20 May is the much lauded Sean Shibe – the first ever guitarist to be selected for BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists scheme. Growing up on a musical diet of contemporary classical and avant-garde jazz, Shibe’s interests remain eclectic, as evidenced in his programme for the festival. The first half is dedicated to classical guitar, with two delectable suites by JS Bach (BWV 996) and Mompou (Compostelana), before things turn electric in the second half for Julia Wolfe’s LAD and Steve Reich’s hypnotic Electric Counterpoint. Having featured the latter piece on his second album softLOUD, Shibe was praised by Reich himself for “One of the best recordings of Electric Counterpoint ever!” – high acclaim indeed.
Following on Saturday 21 May is a concert by the Daniel Martinez Flamenco Company, where audiences can experience vibrant and authentic flamenco music and dance from a spectacular and award-winning Spanish group. Their Art of Believing production won the prestigious Herald Angel Award at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and is bursting with stunning flamenco music, bringing to Manchester the passion and fire of Andalucia. Expect a rich variety of flamenco styles, from the intense emotion of Seguiriyato to the joyful sounds of Alegria, performed by exceptional flamenco singers, guitarists, a violinist and a dancer – all joining acclaimed guitarist Daniel Martinez for a production bursting with life and authenticity.
On the afternoon of Sunday 22 May, Craig Ogden joins the Northern Chamber Orchestra for a wide-ranging Anglo-Australian concert. One of the finest guitarists of his generation, Ogden has performed internationally with the world’s leading orchestras. Here in the UK, where the Australian-born artist now lives, Ogden is the most sought after guitarist for chamber music and one of the nation’s most recorded guitarists. This festival appearance will see him perform Malcolm Arnold’s inimitable Guitar Concerto – an overt tribute to jazz and especially Django Reinhardt – as well as Tasmanian-born composer Peter Sculthorpe’s Nourlangie, which is influenced by South-East Asian and native Australian music.
In addition to these three main headliners, the festival will showcase up and coming stars as part of a late night and afternoon concert series. On Friday night, Ben Bruant and Will Cashel – better known as Duo, the lockdown legends who performed free weekly concerts in the gardens of frontline workers – will be fusing flamenco, pop and classical music. On the Saturday, former Chetham’s School of Music student Whitford Rees will present a programme of pieces from early musicians through to newly commissioned guitar works, while alumna Alexandra Whittingham, whose 2021 debut album reached Number 1 on the iTunes Classical Chart, will share her love of bringing lesser-known composers into the spotlight. Elsewhere we’ll hear from Rochdale-born percussive “fingerstyle” guitarist Becky Langhan, up-and-coming folk guitarist Gwenifer Raymond and the joyous “string band swing” that is The Ukulele Uff Trio.
Running alongside these eclectic live performances will be a series of talks and workshops led by musicians, Chetham’s School of Music guitar tutors and graduates. There is even an Early Years Flamenco Workshop complete with story-telling, music and art where pre-school aged children and their families can learn about the art form. Adding to the festival atmosphere, there’ll be Spanish-themed food and drinks stalls (sangria, anyone?) along with late night bars and even popup shops selling guitar accessories and music.
An easy highlight of The Stoller Hall’s packed spring programme, the inaugural Manchester Guitar Festival is a must for anyone with an interest in the instrument. Tickets are available now via the button below.