Toronto Revisited

By Matanya Ophee

I have attended this well-known conclave of guitarists beginning with the 1978 event. My published review of Guitar ‘84 Festival, was stated in rather strong terms and, as expected, it ruffled a few feathers in Toronto. This was rather unfortunate because I am not anti-Canadian—acid-rain and free-trade notwithstanding. I am against mediocrity spawned by favoritism and nurtured by bigotry. It was interesting to observe what changes were instituted in the organization of ’Guitar 87. Now I am not about to claim that any improvements or changes made in 1987 were due to my critical comments in 1984. Who knows what mysterious political expediencies were at play in shaping the calendar in 1987. Yet, it was gratifying that at least some of the aspects of ’84 that rubbed me the wrong way, were changed in ’87. Somebody must be paying attention.

The most striking aspect of Guitar ’87, was the fact that Kazuhito Yamashita was not present. Let me ask the organizers of the Toronto Festival, here and now, openly and in public, one question for which I failed to obtain a straight answer in person: Why was Kazuhito Yamashita not there? [Who IS afraid of Kazuhito Yamashita?]

At the conclusion of his American tour with superstar flutist James Galway, I had the occasion to have breakfast with Mr. Yamashita. During the conversation, he told me that he had been officially invited to participate in Guitar ’87, but that recently the invitation had been revoked with no explanation or apology. Those of us who were present in his concert in Guitar ’84, well remember the event as one of the most unforgettable experiences of our lives. My published review of that concert was one of the most positive comments on Guitar ’84 I made. This was a milestone event in the history of the guitar, and without question, one of the reasons attendance in ’84 was in respectful numbers. Toronto does not owe Yamashita a repeat performance but re-scheduling him in ’87 would have encouraged the participation of many who have heard him on records and on his tour with Galway. It appears that Guitar ’87 in Toronto chose to cast its lot with other luminaries, with devastating results. The number of non-Canadians attending this year was the lowest ever.

What bothers me is that I have no reason to doubt Yamashita at his word. The success or failure of any guitar event is of direct concern to me, as it should be to all guitarists.  I am also concerned about the prejudice and misunderstanding with which this young man is treated by some. I do know that certain elements in English guitar circles have exhibited in the past a deep-seated prejudice against him. Several writers, particularly in English guitar circles, [in an English groupie guitar mag called Guitar International,] have derided the idea of Pictures at an Exhibition on the guitar without having heard the recording or the performance. At the same time, these writers lavish praise on such burlesques as the Romeros’ performance of the Brandenburg Concertos on four guitars and the Amsterdam Trio’s performance of Vivaldi’s “The Seasons” on three. One got the impression that in the eyes of these English Hispanophiles, no Spaniard or Dutch can do wrong. Yet they cannot tolerate the idea of a non-European invading the sacred ground. The English love affair with the “Noble Savage” was always reserved for the Iberian lot and the Moors. Orientals, by definition, were natives in conquered territories who were not to be taken too seriously. One wonders how much of this colonialist morality still dominates the thinking of some English guitar personalities.

When I asked one official of the Toronto Guitar Society to confirm or deny Yamashita’s dis-invitation, I was told that indeed he was invited with his sister and the invitation cancelled a couple of years ago. In Yamashita’s recollection, the revocation was much more recent, apparently when final bookings of other artists were being concluded. Another official to whom I posed the same question, declined to discuss the subject.

One is left with the suspicion that even though the organizers knew that Yamashita’s concert in 1984 was the best thing they ever presented, there were other forces at play that thwarted a 1987 appearance. Your guess what these forces may have been is as good as mine.

The rest of the festival review is deleted here.


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