Strumming and drumming

The judges certainly had a variety to choose from at the final round of the Third Stotsenberg International Classical Guitar Competition Sunday night.

Among the five finalists, there were the pure technicians and the soulful artists, the domestic and the exotic, the introverts and the extroverts, the near silent and the near cacaphonic, the unexpectedly post modern and the imperatively traditional.

International it was. But classical? Some of the repertory was so “out there,” the musicians did everything to the guitar but smash it on the ground.

After the five finalists each performed 30-minute programs, the judges did choose. But no one was saying exactly how. One of the 22 participants who didn’t make it to the finals said the decision was political. One of the finalists also said the decision was political.

Denis Azabagic of Bosnia & Herzegovina took first place with his inner-directed performance of an extremely quiet, modern repertory that included Leo Brower’s “El Decameron Negro” and Asencio’s “Tango de la Casada Infiel.”

Englishman Graham Devine also opted for an atonal, arrhythmic program, winning fourth place.

Emmanuel Sacquepey took third with the most “traditional” repertory, yet the Parisian not only made eye contact with the audience but winked and joked.

Although Evan Hirschelman, the sole American of the finalists, displayed the warmest tone and most soulful musicality of the evening, he was awarded fifth place. “I was happy with the way I played, so I didn’t care about the results,” said the obviously audience-directed musician.

Second-place winner in the 1997 Stotsenberg Competition, the Brazilian-born Aliksey Vianna returned and was once again the competition’s bridesmaid. He didn’t seem too disappointed, suggesting he had won the $10,000 first-place cash prize — $5,000 at a time.

Although Azabagic has won a multitude of competitions, he said he didn’t know he had won the Stotsenberg until his name was announced by the competition’s sponsor, Ed Stotsenberg. “You spend it before you earn it,” Azabagic did admit.

Because the competition allowed a “free” program, Azabagic’s strategy for winning was to pick his best pieces — all modern — and to play some of the same pieces in the preliminaries and in the finals. “I also just played the music, trying to block the fact that this was a competition,” he said.

Vianna had a different strategy. One month ago, he decided he couldn’t play the same program he played at the previous competition. “So I learned the Ginastera,” he said. “10 hours a day. That was my strategy.”

While the judges deliberated, Dorothy Stotsenberg took the stage “to present what Winnie-the-Pooh called ‘a little something.'” Each of the nonfinalists received an envelope, to be filled next morning at Smothers.

As the rest of the competitors, judges and audience headed for the reception at the nearby Weisman Museum of Art, Azabagic headed for a telephone to report his good news.

Judges: Eli Kassner, Ian Krouse, John Schneider, Scott Tennant and Kenton Youngstrom


1st Denis Azabagic Bosnia/Herzegovina $10,000

2nd Aliksey Vianna Brazil $5,000

3rd Emmanuel Sacquepey France $3,000

4th Graham Anthony Devine England $1,000

5th Evan Hirschelman U.S.A. $1,000

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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