Sohta Nakabayashi plucks top prize

Guitarists showcase their talent in 22nd Texas Guitar Competition and Festival

Rory Moore | Mercury Staff

In the 22nd Annual Texas Guitar Competition and Festival, first-place winner Sohta Nakabayashi won not only a cash prize, but an array of awards. Nakabayashi’s multicultural musical background has shaped his accolade-filled career, driving his passion and inspiring others.

Nakabayashi, a 23-year-old guitarist originally from Japan, now studies music at the Madrid Royal Conservatory in Spain. At the February competition, Nakabayashi won four awards: First Place, Alhambra Diploma Award, the Joseph and Deonne Sullivan Best Performance of Spanish Repertoire Award and the Martha and John Nye Audience Favorite Award. The win also included a cash prize, which Nakabayashi hopes to use to attend more international competitions; he will return next year as a performer, a tradition followed by the TGCF to honor past winners.

TGCF was hosted from Feb. 29 to March 2 at UTD and included performances from musicians across the country, such as Ana Maria Iordache, the first-place winner of last year’s TGCF and an alumnus of the University of Alicante in Bucharest. The competition not only exposes audiences to many different guitar and performance styles, but also provides a way for rising guitarists to secure a career in music, according to Kathryn Evans, the co-director of TGCF.

“It’s really heartening to see that they [past contestants] came to us in their twenties and now, 10-15 years later, they have big careers,” Evans said.

Contestants start by submitting audio clips of their repertoire. Once selections are made, the top four contestants move toward the semifinals, then the final competition. Evans said she saw a passion for guitar in Nakabayashi that extended to his stage presence throughout every stage of the audition process, especially in the finals.

“[He] also play[ed] from the heart, really understanding the music and being completely involved in it,” Evans said.

Classical guitar player Jiujiu Wu, the third-place winner of the TGCF and a junior at the New England Conservatory, said he admired Nakabayashi’s playing for two reasons. First, his consistency, and second, that Nakabayashi’s playing had the quality of a recording, clear and crisp in both feeling and technicality.

Nakabayashi said that his guitar playing thrives on connecting with his audience, and that he enjoys playing music more for fulfillment rather than receiving accolades. Some of Nakabayashi’s fondest memories of guitar come from being a soloist in Joaquin Rodrigo’s Aranjuez Concerto. He performed a piece for the classical guitar, made by 20thhcentury Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo in front of over a thousand people.

With influences of Spanish and Japanese music, he was able to create a balance between these two styles, blending the passion of Japanese playing and the sensitivity of Spanish playing. Nakabayashi’s knack for guitar-playing comes from Pedro Mateo, one of his most influential professors at Real Conservatorio.

“I think his logical interpretation of playing has produced a calmness and cleverness that was lacking in my previous style of playing,” Nakabayashi said.

Nakabayashi won the CIGA 22 Junior award at the Alhambra Guitar Competition, which takes place every two years in Valencia, Spain to encourage guitarists to improve their craft. Winning an award at Alhambra, coupled with a desire to attend TGCF as a competitor, was a catalyst for Nakabayashi to take his passion overseas. For future guitar aficionados, Nakabayashi emphasized the value of practice and having a love for the instrument.

“I think it is important to enjoy playing the guitar … playing the guitar every day, if its only for five minutes, will help you learn more,” Nakabayashi sai

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