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Budapest International Guitar Festival and Competition Returns

In Budapest

Marko Topchii, 2017 winner of the last competition.

Photo by Gábor Valuska.

On October 22, the finalists for the Budapest International Guitar Festival and Competition will be announced.

Previous winners include Ukrainian guitarist Marko Topchii who won in 2017. Topchii has competed in more than 100 international competitions, taking around 50 first places, making him the guitarist with the most competition wins in the world. He is on the jury this year and played the opening concert.

I discovered the Budapest International Guitar Festival and Competition when I was doing online research into Hungarian guitarists for my forthcoming book on the legendary Gábor Szabó.

The Liszt Prize-winning guitarist József Eötvös launched the Budapest International Guitar Festival and Competition in 2014, and he is its artistic director. Eötvös teaches at the Liszt Academy of Music, where he founded the classical guitar department in 2002.

He is also artistic director of the Balatonfüred International Guitar Festival and founder of the Eötvös Music Foundation, which, he told me, “supports talented young guitarists by providing them with concert guitars.”

The Budapest competition is open to professional classical guitarists, university students, and graduates, but they must be under 35.

Eötvös also works as a composer, and when the pandemic is not preventing him, he gives concerts, masterclasses and sits on the jury of international competitions, following the rise of a new generation of young musicians.

Although Hungary was the first country in the world to hold a guitar festival, it didn’t have an internationally renowned competition until Eötvös and his wife, Zita, founded the Budapest International Guitar Festival and Competition.

Spreading the Word

As he puts it, “I’m responsible for the artistic part; Zita manages everything else. From the first moment, the competition has fulfilled all our hopes, bringing great young musicians from all over the world to compete in front of a large international jury and spreading the word of the competition to many parts of the world,” Eötvös says.

“This year’s theme is ‘Colors of the Guitar,’ and we’ve already seen many different and wonderful approaches to playing from our contestants,” he adds.

The competition has been held every three years since 2014. In between, Eötvös and Zita organize three-day festivals of themed concerts with world-leading artists often making their Hungarian debut.

In 2020, it was impossible to hold the competition, so it was moved to this year.

The hope was that it could be in person, but Eötvös realized, “To give every country in the world an equal chance, we still needed to hold the competition online. Many potential contestants from different parts of the world would not have been able to come to Hungary so easily as there was a lot of uncertainty about travel. The idea of an online competition proved to be the right one, as 54 competitors from 29 countries entered, and in the end, 48 competitors sent in their video footage for the first round.”

So far, the international jury has allowed 27 competitors to reach the semi-finals. The list of finalists will be published on October 22. The first prize will be a Sakurai Special guitar made by the legendary Masaki Sakurai worth EUR 5,000.

Japanese guitars are highly regarded because of the extreme precision of their craftsmanship. Sakurai Special guitars marry that with ease of playing and excellent sound volume; they are a mouthwatering prospect for any guitarist.

Hungarian Guitar

Although Hungarian rock and roll bands have never really made their mark on the global stage, I knew that at least two famous guitarists had Hungarian origins.

The parents of flamboyant KISS bass guitarist Gene Simmons, born Chaim Witz in Haifa, Israel, in 1949, were Jewish-Hungarian and came originally from the northeast of this country. Scottish-born guitarist Mark Knopfler, who shot to international fame in the 1980s with the band Dire Straits, had a Jewish-Hungarian father named Erwin.

I also knew that, in the world of jazz, Hungarian-born Gábor Szabó is regarded as an extraordinarily innovative guitarist. Since he died in Budapest in 1982, Szabó’s reputation has been growing steadily.

Attila Zoller, born in Visegrád in 1927, is not as well-known as Szabó, but he was also a great innovator and the first guitarist to play free jazz. Zoller played with all the jazz greats, including Chico Hamilton, Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock, and many others.

I have to confess I know nothing about Hungarians in the international classical guitar scene. Eötvös put me straight.

“Hungarians are actively involved in the international guitar scene, and we are doing very well for the size and population of the country,” Eötvös said.

“I would like to mention András Csáki, who was a student of mine at the Academy of Music and is now my colleague and professor of the guitar department at the same academy. Antal Pusztai is known in classical and jazz. My good friend Sándor Szilvágyi, a Liszt Prize-winning guitarist, who recently died tragically, was a teacher at the Bartók Konzi.” He wasn’t done there.

“Péter Girán, Márton Nagy, Lotti Szalai, Zsombor Sidoo are all excellent. Tritonus Guitar Trio and Venti Chiavi Trio, who won first and second place in the chamber music category at one of our biggest competitions, the 2019 edition of the American GFA competition, should also be included,” he added.

You can follow the competition at www.budapestguitar.hu, watch the videos submitted by the contestants for each round, buy tickets for the festival concerts, and vote online for the contestants to win the audience prize. The Budapest International Guitar Competition Facebook page will also keep you up to speed on the competition’s progress.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of October 22, 2021.

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