2017 Judging Panel

Finals Judges

Benjamin Verdery

Artistic director of 92nd Street Y’s Art of the Guitar series since 2006, chair of the guitar department at the Yale University School of Music and artistic director of the bi-annual Yale Guitar Extravaganza since 1985, Benjamin Verdery is hailed for his innovative and eclectic musical career.

Since 1980 he has performed worldwide in theaters and at festivals, including Theatre Carré (Amsterdam), Maverick Concerts (NY), the International Guitar Festival in Havana, Wigmore Hall (London), Festival Internacional de Guitarra de Taxco (Mexico), the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Metropolitan Opera in New York. His tours regularly take him throughout the US, Canada, Europe and Asia. He has recorded and performed with such diverse artists as Andy Summers, Frederic Hand, William Coulter, Leo Kottke, Anthony Newman, Jessye Norman, Paco Peña, Hermann Prey and John Williams.

Ben Verdery has released more than 15 albums, his most recent being Happy Here with William Coulter; and Branches, featuring works of Bach, Strauss, Jimi Hendrix, Mozart and the traditional Amazing Grace. His CD, Start Now, won the 2005 Classical Recording Foundation Award, while other recordings of note include Some Towns & Cities and his collaborations with John Williams (John Williams Plays Vivaldi) and Andy Summers (First you Build A Cloud). Future recordings include one featuring Yale composers and one featuring his classical guitar arrangements: Randy Newman, Neil Young, Prince, Hendrix, John Lennon, Eddy Vedder, The National, Cream, Elvis and others yet to be arranged.

Many of the leading composers of our time have created music for Ben, including Ezra Laderman, Martin Bresnick, John Anthony Lennon, Anthony Newman, Roberto Sierra, Van Stiefel and Jack Vees. Of particular note was the commission by the Yale University Music Library of a work by Ingram Marshall for classical and electric guitars. Ben Verdery and Andy Summers premiered the work, Dark Florescence, at Carnegie Hall with the American Composers Orchestra. In 2012, the two guitarists appeared at the annual Amsterdam Electric Guitar Heaven.

Benjamin Verdery is also a prolific published composer in his own right with many of his compositions having been performed, recorded and published over the years. In 2012, he was commissioned to compose two works: Penzacola Belongs To All, commissioned by the Pensacola Guitar Orchestra in celebration of their 30thAnniversary (premiered in Pensacola October 2012) and Stand in Your Own Light for guitar and koto, commissioned by the Kyo-Shin-An Arts with funding from the New York State Council for the Arts (premiered in New York City November 2012). In 2010, The Assad Duo premiered Ben's work, What He Said. Commissioned by the 92 St Y, the work is dedicated to the late luthier Thomas Humphrey.

Other recent works have included Now and Ever (for David Russell, Telarc), Peace, Love and Guitars (for John Williams and John Etheridge, SONY Classical), Capitola (John Williams, SONY Classical) and Give (for eight guitars). This last was composed specifically for Thomas Offermann and the guitar ensemble of the Hochschule for Music and Theatre (Rostock, Germany) and dedicated to the memory of U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy. Ben’s Scenes from Ellis Island, for guitar orchestra, has been extensively broadcast and performed at festivals and universities in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Europe, and the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet included it on their CD, Air and Ground (Sony Classical).

Doberman-Yppan (Canada) is currently publishing his solo and duo works for guitar, and Alfred Music distributes the solo pieces from Some Towns & Cities as well as instructional books and video.  Other compositions are available at Ben’s web site. Most recently, Wake Forest University has asked Ben to compose a new solo guitar work based on a poem by Pablo Neruda for its homage to Pablo Neruda in September, 2014 and later in 2014 Ben will finish scoring the documentary film Corida Goyesque, an art film about, among other tings, the role of the bull in art.

In  2007 Ben was appointed an honorary board member of the Suzuki Association of the Americas, and the summer of 2014 marked the 15th anniversary of his Annual International Master Class on the island of Maui.

Benjamin Verdery uses D'Addario strings and guitars by Garrett Lee and Otto Vowinkel. (August 2014)


Julian Gray

Julian Gray is recognized as one of the outstanding guitarists on the current music scene, performing in recital and as a chamber musician and concerto soloist. He has appeared at many of the most prestigious guitar gatherings, including the Second American Guitar Congress and the Guitar Foundation of America Festival, as well as concert series and festivals in London, New York, San Francisco, Dallas, Washington, D.C., St. Louis, and on tour throughout the United States and Canada. His recording of music for guitar and strings by Paganini with the Diaz Trio was hailed by Stradivarius magazine as the finest example of that genre on record and recordings with former duo partner Ronald Pearl, The Magic Circle , Baroque Inventions, Homages and Evocations and Scarlatti 15 for Dorian, have received enthusiastic accolades from critics and music lovers alike.

He is known for his active involvement in expanding the guitar literature, through transcriptions and by commissioning new music for guitar. Hailed by Acoustic Guitar Magazine as "America's best guitar duo", his duo with Ronald Pearl is the only guitar ensemble to receive a commissioning grant from Chamber Music America and an ASCAP citation for adventuresome programming. His latest publication is a series of transcriptions of music by Domenico Scarlatti for guitar duo by Mel Bay.

Julian Gray is a recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award of the Johns Hopkins University. He is the Chair of the Guitar Department at the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University where he teaches guitar, guitar history and literature and coaches chamber music. His students and chamber ensembles are frequent top prize winners at major national and international solo guitar and ensemble competitions. Students from Mr. Gray's studio have received every performance and academic honor awarded by the Conservatory and the Johns Hopkins University offered to the Peabody students.

Mr. Gray has also recently joined the faculty of Shenandoah COnservatory of Shenandoah University where he is Distinguished Artist in Residence and Director of the Guitar Studies Program there. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Guitar Foundation of America.



Diane Wittry

Diane Wittry is one of the foremost woman conductors in the US today.  Frequently engaged as a guest conductor, she has led symphonic performances in more than 10 countries and throughout the U.S.  She has worked with conductors Michael Tilson Thomas, Pierre Boulez, and Daniel Lewis, among others, and has been profiled in the New York Times. 

The Allentown Symphony Association appointed Diane Wittry as its third Music Director and Conductor in 1995.  Under her artistic leadership in the last 20 years, the Orchestra has risen to increasing standards of excellence, performing exciting music with passion and dedication, and winning the prestigious national “American Prize” for artistic quality in 2014.

During her tenure with the ASO, she has built a well-earned reputation for her innovative style of multi-media programming that uses other art forms to enhance the concert experience.  Diane has expanded the concert series and developed outreach programs such as the Schadt National String Competition, Young Musicians String Festival, Phantasy Symphony for amateur musicians, Conducting Fellows Program, ASO Annual Youth and Family Concerts, Meet the Artists brown bag talks, and the Allentown Symphony Chorus.

In addition to her work with the ASO, Diane Wittry has served as the Associate Conductor of the renowned Ojai Music Festival (CA); the Artistic Director of the International Music Program with the Sarajevo Philharmonic, Bosnia;  and Music Director and Conductor of the Symphony of Southeast Texas, the Norwalk Symphony (CT), and the Ridgewood Symphony (NJ).

Wittry is an award winning author, composer, and teacher. Her two books, Beyond the Baton, and Baton Basics-Communicating Music through Gestures, have become standards in the field.  Hundreds of conductors from all over the world have studied conducting with her, and she regularly gives presentations at the Juilliard School of Music, the Curtis Institute, the Manhattan School of Music, and for the League of American Orchestras and the Conductors Guild National Conferences. Next January, Wittry will be the featured conducting teacher for the CODA National Conference (College Orchestra Director’s Association). 

As a composer, Diane Wittry's compositions are published by Theodore Presser Company.  Her pieces have been performed and recorded by orchestras in the United States and Europe.  Wittry's composition "Mist, " premiered by the Allentown Symphony in 2008, will have its New York premiere in October 2015. 

Awards Diane Wittry has received include the national Helen M. Thompson Award from the League of American Orchestras, the USC Thornton School of Music Outstanding Alumnus Award, the Gold Crown Award (Pasadena, CA), the Women of Excellence Award (Beaumont, TX), and the Arts Ovation Award and the Woman of Distinction Award (Allentown, PA).


Preliminary Judges:


Mark Delpriora

Mark Delpriora is an American classical guitarist and composer.

Delpriora is currently Chair of the Guitar Department at the Manhattan School of Music, where he has been on the faculty since 1989. Mark is also on the faculty of The Juilliard School, where he teaches guitar studies. He studied guitar with Rolando Valdés-Blain and later with Manuel Barrueco. He studied theory/composition in his early teens withRoland Trogan and later with Giampaolo Bracali. Mr. Delpriora has recorded for Koch International Classics, Soundspells, Philips, Tzadik, and CRI. In addition, he has recorded 6 CDs with flutist Laurel Zucker on Cantilena Records.

As a performer, the New York Times wrote after his debut: "The first notes of Mark Delpriora's guitar recital established him as a musician of authority. In a little Mozart transcription by Julian Bream he showed a rare feeling for the specific gravity of a Mozartean phrase, for the inevitability of its rise and fall. Delpriora is a guitarist to be reckoned with"

One of the few students chosen to participate in masterclasses by Andrés Segovia, Delpriora has performed and championed music written for, but rarely played by, Segovia, known as The Segovia Archives. The collection is published by Berben Edizioni Musicali and edited by Angelo Gilardino. Angelo Gilardino wrote after hearing Delpriora play this music: “His playing is very fluent, effortless, elegant and extremely refined, and his view of the music he performs is sophisticated, still direct and transparent".

He has performed and taught master classes in Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Uruguay, Italy and the United States and has been recognized with many awards, including the inaugural Andrés Segovia Award for Outstanding Performance given by the Manhattan School of Music with Segovia in attendance, the Beard’s Fund Award, and the Artists International Distinguished Artist Award, and by grants, including a United Nations Travel Grant and grants from Meet the Composers and the Cooper Institute for the Arts and Humanities. In addition, he has performed at the Lake Placid Chamber Music Festival, Piccolo Spoleto, Stetson University Guitar Festival, Rutgers University Summerfest, Eastman Guitarfest and the Summit Music Festival; and with the New York Contemporary Music Band, New Music Consort, Joffrey Ballet Orchestra, and the Washington Bach Consort. More recently Mark Delpriora has been performing on the baroque guitar, giving his first all-baroque guitar recital at William Paterson University's 2007 Guitar Fest.

His compositions have been published by Bèrben Edizioni Musicali (the 50-minute Sonata No.3, Sonata No.2, Elegia per Basil Keiser), Editions Orphée (Tango Caffè Carciofo, 10 Short Studies in Kaleidoscope,Creation Fugue, Variations on a Theme of Sor), and Guitar Arts Publishing (Four Images after a poem by e.e. cummings), MelBay (Tambu Fantasy). All of the above works, particularly the Sonatas, are contrapuntally complex, dramatically shaped and technically challenging. Sonata no.3 has become particularly renowned and is the subject of a chapter in Manuale di storia della chitarra. 2: La chitarra nel ventesimo secolo by Gianni Nuti.

Delpriora's most recent composition is the 35 minute set of variations on Fernando Sor's Opus 24, #1. The scope of this work is unprecedented in the guitar repertoire, at twice the length of Britten's Nocturnal the closest equivalent must be found in the piano repertoire e.g. Rzewski's variations The People United Will never be Defeated. Delpriora writes: "In the tradition of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s 'Variations à travers les siècles', Astor Piazzola’s 'Histoire du Tango' and Argento’s song cycle 'Letters from Composers', I have taken an historical view of composition for my 'Variations on a Theme by Sor'. This new set of variations follows Sor’s little Menuet in c minor op. 24 N° 1 as it makes its epic journey across time and space through the nineteenth century and into the early years of the twentieth century. During its travels, the theme meets and pays its respects to the godfathers of nineteenth century music and as a result is irrevocably transformed". In a sense, this work can be said to be a musical example of Metahistorical romance. The last page of the published work contains an imaginary interview between Delpriora and the nineteenth century musicologist François-Joseph Fétis.

Two of the variations (12 and 14) served as the set piece for the 2011 GFA competition.

His Elegia and several of his 10 Short Studies,the seventh of which is 9 seconds in duration, demonstrate a particular interest in very short forms with an accompanying intimate emotional sensitivity.

Mark and his family live in Brooklyn, New York.


Joanne Castellani

Joanne Castellani and her husband, Michael Andriaccio, have enjoyed a celebrated career as one of the foremost guitars duos in the world, the Castellani Andriaccio Duo. Having received numerous awards and distinctions from the very beginning of their duo days including two National Endowment for the Arts Solo Recitalist Fellowships and a scholarship to the master classes of Andres Segovia in Spain, they have toured internationally as recitalists performing at the White House, the Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian Institution and Carnegie Hall and as concerto soloists with orchestras around the world. Sought after pedagogues as well, they have performed and taught at over one hundred colleges, universities and conservatories. Their collaboration with Grammy nominated composer, Roberto Sierra, has resulted in two magnificent new concerti for two guitars and orchestra, Of Discoveries and the Fantasia Corelliana, both recorded with the Israel Chamber Orchestra and the St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra of Lithuania, and both given their world premiere performances with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.

The Duo has recorded ten acclaimed CDs, two named “Best of the Year” by Fanfare Magazine and American Record Guide and two DVDs. Critics around the globe from the New York Times to Gramophone Magazine have unanimously praised their, “elegance, style, poise and exquisite taste in interpretation”.

Joanne maintains a full private teaching studio of traditional and Suzuki guitar students. The Castellani Andriaccio Guitar Studios in Snyder, NY is the largest private classical guitar program in upstate New York. A passionate proponent of chamber music for children and young adults, she is Director of Ensemble Saltarello, a music performance/mentoring group that specializes in the presentation of world music. She is cofounder, President and CEO of Fleur de Son Classics, a record label with over one hundred acclaimed titles, recognized internationally as a world leader in recorded chamber music and with such ensembles as the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Israel Chamber Orchestra, the Dvorak Chamber Orchestra and others. Joanne has served as Executive Director of the Guitar Foundation of America International Competitions, the largest solo guitar competition in the world and now, she is Artistic Co-Director of the JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition presented by WNED and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. For more information, please http://www.castellaniandriaccio.com, www.caguitarstudios.com


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