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Director's vision for Austin comes with strings attached

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Matthew Hinsley, executive director of the Austin Classical Guitar Society, is planning a week of guitar events from fun to folly-filled in June.

You might say that Matthew Hinsley is getting ready to declare Austin "Guitar Town" for a week in June.

Not that the self-proclaimed "Live Music Capital of the World" exactly needs any reinforcement of its status.

But Hinsley, who is executive director of the Austin Classical Guitar Society, is going to tweak Austin's well-known moniker just a bit when he brings hundreds of classical guitarists from around the world to town for the Guitar Foundation of America's annual convention.

The international guitar community's largest yearly gathering includes a slew of celebrated performers — the legendary Pepe Romero, the LA Guitar Quartet and flamenco star Grisha Goryachev, among others, are on the bill — as well as the glossiest, most career-boosting guitar competition in the business. (The first prize grants a young virtuoso a contract for a solo CD on Naxos Records and a 60-concert tour.)

The classical guitar business that is, not the electric guitar business.

Not that Hinsley spends a lot time parsing out the differences between classical guitar and rock or pop guitar. He's pretty mellow sipping assam tea at the Jade Leaves tea shop on Guadalupe Street.

"Guitar happens to be the glue," Hinsley says in answer to a question about the divide between the classical and pop music worlds. "It's an ambassador."

Hinsely has proof. For an impressive 500 students in Austin Independent School District, the guitar serves an ambassador to classical music and the fine arts thanks to an in-school music program developed and funded by Austin Classical Guitar Society, arguably one of the largest such programs in the country.

"Kids who have never had music lessons before will pick up guitar because they know (the instrument)," says Hinsley. "And two months later we've taught them to play something that sounds beautiful. And we've been surprised at how many of them stick with it, too."

Those young guitarists will be asked to play beautifully together in a massive guitar ensemble concert Hinsley has planned for the June convention. Hinsley has commissioned Austin composer Graham Reynolds to write a piece especially for what will probably be hundreds of young guitarists.

"We're going to fit as many young artists on the Long Center stage as want to be there," says Hinsley. "We'll stick 'em in the aisles if we have to."

The giant-sized guitar concert is just one of the more Austin-esque public events Hinsley has planned. He's also invited Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to set up a Rolling Roadshow screen on the Long Center Terrace for a free screening of "Crossroads," a 1986 film starring Ralph Macchio. Macchio plays a young classical guitarist smitten with the blues who sets out to find the root of famed bluesman Robert Johnson's supposedly magical talent. But lest anyone take the somewhat campy movie too seriously, Hinsley has enlisted comedy troupe Master Pancake to do its signature live spoofing of the movie. And William Kanengiser of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, who acted as Macchio's guitar coach for the film, will be there to indulge the crowd with a few stories.

Could a classical air guitar competition be a possibility?

Hinsley hints yes. "There's a place for everything, and I'm hoping we're taking a very academic and industry-oriented event and transforming it into a more community-based event so everyone can be involved."

Of course, you also can attend the competition concerts where international rising stars strum for the big prize, too. (Check www.austingoesclassical.com for tickets and information.) But if you want to stand around and fake like you're strumming, Hinsley will take that, too.

All guitar is good in his Guitar Town.

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699