Parkening International Guitar Competition Attracts World-Class Talent

Article by Alison Perks

Photography by Lisa Smith Wengler Center for the Arts, Pepperdine University, 2019

Originally published in Malibu Coast Lifestyle

Musicians from around the globe gathered at Pepperdine University’s Smothers Theatre this summer to compete in the prestigious Parkening International Guitar Competition. Twenty-three-year-old Andrea Roberto from Italy wowed the audience and took first placewith his interpretation of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Concerto No. 1 in D Major during the sold-out final round held Saturday, June 1. In addition to the Gold Medal and first place title, Roberto took home the $30,000 Jack Marshall Prize.

Boasting the largest prize purse of any classical guitar competition in the world—totaling up to $65,000—the Parkening International Guitar Competition was founded in 2006 at Pepperdine by preeminent classical guitarist and Distinguished Professor of Music Christopher Parkening, who wanted to establish a litmus where the best classical guitarists around the world could compete. 

“In line with his lifetime commitment to foster the musicians of the future, Christopher created the competition to showcase the musical beauty of classical guitar and to inspire real musicality,” says Rebecca Carson, Managing Director of the Lisa Smith Wengler Center for the Arts at Pepperdine.

Competitors had to undergo a rigorous audition process, being selected by a panel of judges based on a variety of criteria, including musicality, tone, and the truth of the beauty in their art form.

Silver Medalist Alec Holcomb, 24, of Nashville, Tennessee, received $15,000, and Bronze Medalist Sergey Perelekhov, 22, of Russia, was awarded $7,500. The three finalists were selected from the original 15 competitors hailing from seven different countries. Bokyung Byun, 24, of South Korea came in fourth place; Junhong Kuang, 19, of China placed fifth; and Riccardo Calogiuri, 29, of Italy took sixth place during the semifinal round on May 31—all receiving $1,000 awards. The competitors’ required and free-choice pieces were rated on musicality, tone, technical ability, and stage presence.

Despite the fact that many competitors came from different countries and did not speak the same language, the competition demonstrated the universal language of music.

“The emotional aspects are tangible when playing [guitar],” shares competitor Samuel Hines of Long Beach, who says he feels “a strong responsibility to share (the music) with others.” He describes his passion for playing the guitar as a “natural love and appreciation [that] grew like a relationship.”

Tengyue Zhang, of Beijing, China, expressed his immense gratitude to the donors and mentors along the way who promote music and the arts so that artists like himself can pursue their dreams.

“People contributing to the arts make it possible for people like me to continue on our musical journey, such as to travel and compete in the Parkening International Guitar Competition,” says Zhang.

In addition to hosting the Parkening International Guitar Competition, Pepperdine presented the Parkening Young Guitarist Competition for guitarists ages 17 and younger on Tuesday, May 28 and Wednesday, May 29. Cash awards for the Young Guitarist Competition included $3,000 for the first-place winner and $750 for each of four finalists. The remaining five competitors received $500 awards.

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