Acoustic Guitar – “Contemporary Classic”

Over the past decade, Canadian classical guitarist Dale Kavanagh has emerged as a vital force in contemporary guitar music. Both as a soloist and as a member of the Amadeus Guitar Duo, she has built a reputation as a technical virtuoso and an insightful interpreter of contemporary guitar repertoire.

Kavanagh’s first contact with classical guitar came in 1975 when she heard Segovia protégé Oscar Ghiglia in concert in Canada. At that point, she was already playing guitar professionally in folk and jazz bands. Hearing Ghiglia play was a revelation that inspired her to seek professional training in classical guitar. After earning her B.Mus. from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she went on to study with Ghiglia for three years at the Musik-Akademie der Stadt Basel in Switzerland where she earned a Solisten Diplom (soloist’s degree, equivalent of an MA. in music).

Not surprisingly, Kavanagh considers Ghiglia to be her greatest influence as a guitarist. “I love Oscar’s musicality,” she says. “Oscar always fought for bringing out the lines in music. His teaching was not so much about the instrument, but about the music. He used poetry, fantasy, and wonderfully creative ideas in his explanations of lines, colors, expressions and emotions. It was just what I needed as a student.

After graduating, she started competing internationally, receiving top awards in 1988 at the Scandinavian International Guitar Competition, second prize at the Neuchatel International Guitar Competition in Switzerland, and third prizes at the Gargnano International Competition in Italy and the Segovia Guitar Competition in Spain.

One of the most striking things about Kavanagh’s playing is the big, grand piano-like sound she gets from her instrument. This sound was inspired by the full rich tone of guitarist Hubert Käppel, her former husband, and can be heard on any of the albums she has recorded, both as soloist and with the Amadeus Guitar Duo, for the German label Hänssler Classic ( These include the solo Lyrical and Virtuosic Guitar Music; Mediterraneo, featuring two concertos for two guitars written for the Amadeus Guitar Duo; and Spanish Night, a collection of Joaquin Rodrigo’s concertos for one, two and four guitars.

Born in Nova Scotia, Kavanagh now lives in Germany with her partner, Thomas Kirchhoff, the other half of the Amadeus Guitar Duo (, and teaches at the Musichochschule (University for Music) in Dortmund. In 1992, Kavanagh and Kirchhoff decided to invite the classical guitar community to Germany by putting together the International Guitar Symposium ( in their hometown of Iserlohn. The symposium began with no sponsorship, just 29 students, and five teachers; Kavanagh, Kirchhoff, Käppel, Gerald Garcia, and Ulrich Stracke. It has since become one of Europe’s largest guitar festivals, featuring such leading contemporary guitarists as the Assad Brothers, David Russell, Manuel Barrueco, Eliot Fisk, Roland Dyens, and David Tanenbaum, with over 200 students and sponsorship from the DÀddario Foundation, the City of Iserlohn, and the Sparkasse, a local bank.

Kavanagh is a strong advocate of contemporary music for the guitar, particularly chamber music, and plays the music of many contemporary composers, such as Carlo Domeniconi, Roland Dyens, and Stephen Dodgson, all of whom have dedicated works to her or to the Amadeus Guitar Duo. Her love of chamber music feeds into the importance she places on musical community. “Students need to learn to play together well, to count or follow a conductor, or learn to be their own conductor so that they are free with their playing,” she says. “Sometimes when a guitarist sits alone in a room for many hours a day, rhythmic eccentricities creep into their music. Guitarists need to interact more. It can be a lonely life.”

by Stephen Dick