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December 2006 Issue
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Adelaide guitarist wins Japan prize


University of Adelaide music student Aleksandr Tsiboulski has won first prize in the 49th Tokyo International Guitar Competition, one of the most prestigious in the world.

Alex's accomplishment represents the first Australian guitar win in over a decade in a major overseas contest.

In addition to a cash prize of AUD$10,000 and a valuable handmade guitar by Sakurai Kohno, Alex, 26, has signed a contract for a Yamaha-sponsored tour of Japan in 2007.

Held over three rounds at the Tokyo Bunka-Kaikan Recital Hall, the competition was attended by some of the leading young guitarists from Asia, North and South America, as well as Europe.

The final round saw six finalists each performing 30-minute programs to a public audience and a panel of judges.

American Edward Trybek walked away with second prize and Yan Skryhan from Belarus received third.

Alex, a Fulbright Scholar in the Visual and Performing Arts, is a PhD student with the University of Adelaide's Elder Conservatorium. Currently on study leave, he is based at the University of Texas, Austin, where he is pursuing graduate study in music under the guidance of Adam Holzman.

Born in Ukraine, Alex immigrated to Adelaide at age 10 with his mother. He attended Marryatville High School, well known for its music program, and the Australian National University, where he studied with renowned Australian guitarist and teacher Timothy Kain.

Before the win in Tokyo, he had, in 2006 alone, won two international competitions in the United States, and was a finalist in several others, most notably the Guitar Foundation of America international competition, an event described as the Wimbledon of guitar competitions.

Alex said his win in Japan was special to him in many ways.

"It's a wonderful feeling to be recognised and treated so kindly by complete strangers in a very different country, to receive some monetary recompense and a beautiful musical instrument, and to have them invite you back. Also, it's a weight off my shoulders to secure a win in a major competition," he said from Austin, Texas.

"There are many more good guitarists now than 30 or 50 years ago and not very much more demand, so I guess competitions like these are a way of separating what might be perceived to be 'the cream' from the rest. But all these kinds of terms are fairly absurd when you're talking about music - you're talking about a highly solitary, somewhat obsessive, deeply creative and holistic pursuit in the sense that it really involves the person in many disciplines and penetrates many layers of one's life.

"During a competition you get a chance to manifest that totality through a brief spark of a performance that is hopefully representative of who you are and what you do, and it is really a question of how that momentary spark is viewed by a fellow practitioner who is on the jury, how it connects with their experience and knowledge, and whether - your good technique and preparation being taken for granted - the sparks connect.

"So it's helpful and gratifying, but neither does it mean that I'm a better musician than I was a week before I won it. Hopefully, though, the opportunities I will get from this will lead to the kind of work through which I can continue the refinement of what I do as a musician."

Alex said his time in the US was proving to be very productive.

"Basically, I think one always looks at a variety of places to play and develop, especially if one is from Australia where the population is small and the neighbouring countries, not surprisingly, don't really have much interest in Western classical music.

"It is really important to my well being and sense of belonging to maintain strong contact with home and to have the use of my home base as a workshop environment - you need somewhere to try stuff out and to do creative side-trips. 'Home' is a really powerful word and idea for someone who travels constantly. And Adelaide is that home for me," he said.

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Aleksandr Tsiboulski

Aleksandr Tsiboulski
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