Considering the San Francisco Conservatory of Music was the first American conservatory to offer a degree in classical guitar in 1963, the instrument has found a welcome home at the institution for half a century, turning out some of the best guitarists on an international scale. The presence of excellence in SFCM’s guitar department was most recently evident at the Miami International GuitART Festival (February 19-25) where, at the Festival’s annual performance competition, Marko Topchii ’18 and Ji Hyung Park ’19 took first and second prize, respectively.
Both students of newly appointed faculty member Judicaël Perroy, Topchii and Park hit the ground running upon arrival at SFCM to push their musicianship to the next level.
“When I arrived in San Francisco, I met with Judicaël right away and we started working,” says Topchii. “I feel our goal is to push the boundaries of what guitar music can sound like—from both sides, his and mine—to present audible material that can be remembered and appreciated. The intensity of the preparation is very high as there are exciting plans ahead such as the GFA (Guitar Foundation of America) competition, but what is very important is that we are working on timeless musical issues. Judicaël is a one-of-a-kind professor who spots your intentions, predicts your capabilities, and stimulates to bring the result further. The key is that in order to be convincing it has to be a personal result.”
Perroy, one of the most accomplished and respected guitarists living today, is equally masterful as a performer and pedagogue, seeking out the unique qualities of his students and amplifying their promise.
“One of the most exceptional things about Judicaël is his respect for his students (their music, style, ideas, etc.),” says Park. “Therefore, each of his students can develop their own musicality. He doesn't make students play how he prefers—instead, he makes them sound better in their own style. And I think we have to have extraordinary musicality and knowledge to be able to do so. I think that's why most of his current and former students have all completely different musical styles, but are all very good.”
Before their arrival at SFCM, Perroy was already familiar with Topchii and Park. He had taught them previously in Europe, and noted their talent early on, watching their progression over the years.
“I have known Marko for many years,” says Perroy. “I first heard him in a concert in Paris when he was 18 years old. He has built a career for himself winning a tremendous number of competitions. What amazes me is that he has not lost his freshness as a musician along the way—a difficult feat in such an environment. While he was always a great guitarist and musician, he has developed a very deep artistry.
“He has a special view about competitions: he uses them as an opportunity to improve and to know himself better as an artist. He is comfortable doing that because his playing comes from a deeply rooted place within himself.”
Having studied with him in Europe, Park decided to come to San Francisco when Perroy joined the faculty so that he could continue his studies.
“Ji was my student in Europe, and is one of the most curious artists I know,” says Perroy. “He has a keen sense of style no matter what repertoire he is playing. I see a parallel between his ability to quickly adapt to music from different composers and eras and his quick grasp of French culture and language (when he came to study with me in France). His extraordinary success in competitions has exempted him from compulsory military service, allowing him to serve his home country of South Korea with his music.”
With his students receiving the top two placements at the Miami International GuitART Festival, Perroy can be proud of studio he’s built at SFCM. Topchii and Park are latest in a continuous stream of success for the guitar department. Without a doubt, we’ll be hearing their names again soon.