Repeat performance: Guitar festival brings musicians back to ECU
By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector
Friday, July 12, 2019
For more than half his life, Adam Kossler has been coming to Greenville to spend a few days every summer. One annual gathering has been a constant on his calendar since he was a teenager.
But it's not a family reunion that draws him. For Kossler, the ties that bind are guitar strings. For 18 years, he has attended ECU's Summer Guitar Festival.
Kossler will bring his brother along to this weekend's festival, which begins Saturday at A.J. Fletcher Music Center. At the 24th annual event, dozens of classical guitarists will spend as many as eight hours a day in classes, competitions and concerts.
“You could call it a guitar boot camp,” said festival founder and director Elliot Frank, a professor of guitar at ECU. “It's the time of year you can really focus. You don't have to worry about extra classes. You can just do guitar.”
Remembering the value of his summer study experiences during college is what prompted Frank to launch the program at ECU in 1996. At the time, there were few summer festivals like it across the country.
The inaugural festival focused on education rather than entertainment, though it quickly grew to feature public performances.
“The first year, there weren't any public concerts,” Frank recalled. “I realized I've got these people that are great teachers; they're great players. It's gone from there.”
The festival now draws acclaimed artists including soloists Dragos Ilie; Stephen Robinson, Andrew Zohn and Francois Fowler, along with the Akerman Teixeira Duo and SoloDuo.
SoloDuo's Matteo Mela and Lorenzo Micheli have performed across the country as well as in Europe, Asia, Canada and Latin America.
“They're both outstanding soloists, but they really like playing together,” Frank said. “They're probably the very best duo on the face of the earth right now.”
The festival, which has hosted the duo several times over the last decade, not only sees repeat performers but returning students as well.
“One of the distinguishing features of this event is that we're particularly open to adult amateurs,” Frank said. “A lot of people have been coming for that reason.
“So many of these events are not really adult friendly in terms of the opportunities,” he said. “They're more for college students and really serious guitar students as opposed to just people who just like playing guitar.”
Guitarists, ranging in age from 8 to 78, come from across the country for the event. The festival has been known to attract participants from as far away as Taiwan for instruction in classical guitar, which involves a more sophisticated use of the right hand technique and the fingers as opposed to playing with a pick.
“There are people that have been coming for 15 years who come every year,” Frank said. “There's sort of a group of people who come.”
Kossler started coming the summer after high school graduation. The Winston-Salem native, who graduated from ECU in 2006, hasn't missed a single year.
“As a student there at ECU, I got a fresh perspective from world-class musicians every summer,” he said. “It was one of my favorite weeks of the year.”
It still is, though Kossler has gone from being a student to being a faculty artist and performer. He and his brother, John, will be in concert Sunday.
Kossler and other former guitar competition winners at the ECU festival have gone on to become top prizewinners at national and international competitions. Alec Holcomb, a former winner of the youth division and college division, was a third prize winner in the Guitar Foundation of America competition.
“Some of my participants and some of the artists have started (festivals of their own) after being here,” Frank said. “Now more and more events like this are popping up.”
But Kossler, a member of the music faculty at Pfeiffer University in Charlotte, prefers to invite his music students to join him at ECU's Summer Guitar Festival. Those who accept generally return year after year.
“It is very much like a family reunion,” Kossler said. “We've all truly become friends. I come because it's guitar, but I stay because everybody's my friend.”
WANT TO GO
East Carolina University School of Music will host its annual Guitar Festival from Saturday-Tuesday in A.J. Fletcher Music Center. Concerts will be held at 4 and 7:30 p.m. daily. Artists featured at the afternoon concerts include: Dragos Ilie, Saturday; Kossler Duo, Sunday; Solo Competition Semifinalists, Monday; and Solo Competition Finals, Tuesday. Evening concerts will feature Elliot Frank and Stephen Robinson, Saturday; Li-Zohn Duo and Akerman Teixeira Duo, Sunday; and Francois Fowler and SoloDuo, Monday. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students for afternoon concerts and $20 for adults and $15 for students for evening concerts. Ticket packages for all afternoon and evening concerts are available for $50 for adults and $30 for students and seniors. Visit www.ecuarts.com or call 328-4788.