An American Composer in Spain



Guitarist Leo Brouwer and composer James Lentini enjoy 4 days of guitar music in Spain
Photo by Juan Manuel de Haro

“Felicidades Premio Andrés Segovia Spain,” stated an e-mail message received on January 5, 2002. The recipient of the message was Wayne State University professor and composer/guitarist James Lentini, who translated the message to find out that he had been awarded the 2002 Andrés Segovia International Composition Prize for his solo guitar composition Westward Voyage. Little did he know that in addition to a cash award the prize would lead to participation on an international jury of guitarists and composers in Spain that would include famed Cuban guitar composer Leo Brouwer. The best part was that Westward Voyage would become required repertoire for the second round of the 2003 Segovia Guitar Competition. Having just returned from Spain as a participating composer and juror in the competition from January 2-6, 2003, Lentini found that the level of excellence and preparation of the contestants far surpassed his highest expectations.

The series of events began in the fall of 1999, when Los Angeles Guitar Quartet guitar virtuoso William Kanengiser called Lentini to arrange a performance at Wayne State University in Detroit as part of a solo tour. A graduate of the University of Southern California (DMA in Composition, 1990), Lentini knew Bill Kanengiser very well from their time together at USC in the mid 1980’s. Their discussion led to the idea of Lentini composing a new piece for Kanengiser, and the result was a 7-minute composition titled Westward Voyage, musically depicting the composer’s journey from his boyhood home in the Midwest to Los Angeles. Once completed, Westward Voyage was entered in the 2002 Segovia Composition Competition.

The Segovia Competition is based in the town of La Herradura, Spain, located on the Mediterranean coast about 70 kilometers south of Granada. The great Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia (1893-1987) lived part of each year in the coastal town of La Herradura, sanctioning organizers to use his name for the event. From January 2-6, 2003, thirty-two guitarists age thirty-five years or younger from around the world competed for a first prize of $8000 and a newly made guitar by Paco Santiago Marín of Granada worth $6000. Second prize was awarded $4000, while third place received $2000.

The 2003 competition saw guitarists from 19 countries perform the demanding Bach Chaconne (required) and a free selection in the first round. Fourteen players advanced to the second round, and it was here that Lentini was invited to participate as a juror, along with the established “jurado” of Antonio Martín Moreno (jury president and musicologist from the University of Granada), Maria Esther Guzmán(concert guitarist from Madrid), Carmelo Martinez (guitarist from the University of Granada), José Luis Rodrigo (guitarist from Barcelona), and Manuel Martin (music educator from the University of Granada). “I was quite amazed at how good the players were,” said Lentini. “I expected a certain level of competence and preparation, but this was the finest group of young guitarists I have ever heard assembled under one roof.”

It was Lentini’s responsibility to award a prize for the best interpretation of Westward Voyage to one of the 14 guitarists who advanced to the second round, for which a $700 prize would be administered. The decision proved to be difficult. “The level of playing was really amazing,” said Lentini. “Of the 14 second-round players, about 11 of the performances were really great, and of those at least five were worthy of the prize.” Lentini finally settled on Ukrainian guitarist Roman Viazovskiy to receive the special interpretation award. Viazovskiy would also take third place in the overall performance competition. Lentini stated, “the experience of hearing fourteen different guitarists from all over the world play my piece at such a high level was really a thrill, and it was a joy to listen to such contrasting and viable approaches to my music.”

In addition to the performance of his music, Lentini was invited to become an integral part of the jury to decide the finalists and the winners of the competition. “I was really honored to be invited to take part in the decision making of such a great performance competition,” said Lentini. “Despite the language barrier, the jury president (Antonio Martín Moreno) and his distinguished colleagues showed trust and faith in me to assist them in making very difficult and sensitive decisions.” Lentini’s background as a classical guitarist no doubt served him well in participating on the jury. “I spoke up a few times about technical and musical issues that I think made them comfortable with me,” said Lentini.

Another task that Lentini took part in was choosing the next winner of the Segovia Composition Prize. Eduardo Morales Caso (a composer from Madrid) and Lentini screened 104 submitted works that were whittled down to six finalists. To Lentini’s surprise and delight, the icon of the guitar composition world, Leo Brouwer, arrived in time to participate in the final phase of the composition discussions. “Brouwer was gracious and knowledgeable, and the room seemed to hang on just about every word he spoke,” said Lentini. Ultimately, Brouwer, Lentini, and Eduardo Morales Caso agreed on a piece titled Hechizos by Chilean-French composer Mauricio Arena Fuentes as the winner. “It was a thrill to be sitting next to Brouwer discussing the fine points of each final composition,” said Lentini. “It was also interesting to see how he thinks and how he dissects musical ideas.”

Leo Brouwer joined Lentini and the rest of the jury to hear the final phase of the guitar competition, which required finalists to perform Brouwer’s Concierto Eligiaco. “I will never forget the discussion in the jury room after the final phase,” said Lentini. “To be asked my opinion so many times with Brouwer and the Spanish jury in the room was daunting, while at the same time thrilling.” The jury made a final decision by majority vote that the winner was Anders Clemens Oien (Norway), while second place went to Ramón Carnota Mendéz (Spain) and third to Roman Viazovskiy (Ukraine).

To top off the amazing events, Lentini was in for one more surprise. The day after the competition, an awards event is held where certificates are given to all finalists and the first three finishers receive their awards. “The church was packed with people, press, and a television crew” said Lentini, “and I had no idea that each of the first three finishers would play a selection of their choosing.” Lentini was surprised and honored to find that Ramón Carnota Mendéz decided to play Westward Voyage. When the piece ended, the audience applauded so enthusiastically that Lentini was asked to take a second bow. “It was really exciting,” said Lentini, “especially since it was Leo Brouwer and the jury president (Antonio Martín Moreno) who insisted that I take a second bow as the audience continued to applaud.”

“I am quite impressed that the organizers of the competition make the performance of new compositions such an integral part of the process,” said Lentini. “The Segovia Composition Prize provides a unique way to enter a piece into the guitar repertoire by getting the work into several players hands at one time…Several of the players have already included my piece in upcoming recitals that they are performing throughout the world.”

Dr. Lentini’s participation in the Segovia Competition was supported by a grant from the World Bridge Office of Wayne State University.

James Lentini is a Professor of Composition and the Associate Chairman of the Department of Music at Wayne State University in Detroit, where he has been a faculty member since 1988. His works have been performed in Italy, Spain, Chile, Poland, Bulgaria, and throughout the U.S. As a performing guitarist, he has studied the instrument with Joe Fava, Charles Postlewate, and William Kanengiser.

Westward Voyage by James Lentini is distributed in the U.S. by the Theodore Presser Company, 588 North Gulph Road, King of Prussia, PA 19406, Phone: 610-525-3636, Fax: 610-527-7841, Catalog #56400846

Andrea Saglimbene is the publicity coordinator and Academic Services Officer in the Department of Music at Wayne State University.