Chamber Music Festival promises powerful, moving performances
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
One of the oldest music festivals in San Miguel de Allende is the Chamber Music Festival, which was begun by several expat musicians in 1978. This year, the Festival begins on Friday, August 3, and runs through August 19. The Chamber Music Festival will present “varied and daring” music, including world and Latin-American premieres. Among other groups, this year the Festival will feature the Pacifica Quartet, Cassat String Quartet, Ensamble Onix, and the Atlanta Chamber Players, in addition to free student concerts. According to the organizers, this year the Festival will be “musically exciting.”
Story behind the Festival
In 1970, several musicians arrived in town, among them Tom Sawyer, a cellist for the San Francisco Symphony. Over time they became acquainted, and in 1978 the musicians had the idea to hold a chamber music festival at the Ángela Peralta Theater under Carmen Masip’s direction, financed by donations. “They decided on chamber music because the ensembles are small and easier to coordinate than a whole symphony orchestra,” said Antonio Cabrero, executive director of the Festival.
The organizers of the Festival “had contacts around the world, and it turned out that some of the most important quartets in the world wanted to come to San Miguel, at greatly reduced fees. Thus began a romance between San Miguel de Allende and great musicians,” said Cabrero, who added that since its beginning the Festival has survived thanks to private donations. Benefactors donate from US$1,000 to 5,000 through the San Miguel Community Foundation; the donations are tax-deductible. This year, CONACULTA (National Council for Culture and Arts) donated 200,000 pesos. The Festival has survived in part because the performers charge much lower rates than usual.
Most of the concerts have been held in San Miguel, but some of the musicians have also played in Querétaro. Cabrero commented that “the Festival is attracting attention from other states, and the authorities have asked us to extend the Festival to their areas. Before doing that, we want to extend the festival within the state, to León and Guanajuato. Later, the Festival can expand to nearby states so we will have wider national and international exposure.”
The festival begins on Friday, August 3. Pacifica Quartet, a Grammy-winning ensemble, will perform during the first weekend. The group has toured worldwide and is in residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Among their offerings will be Beethoven’s String Quartet in F major, op. 135 and Janáček’s String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters.”
The following week, on Thursday, August 9, the Festival will present the Cassat String Quartet, who will open their program with Lullaby for Strings, composed in 1919 by George Gershwin, among other compositions. On August 10, Alejandro Escuer, flutist, and Edith Ruiz, pianist, from Ensamble Onix, will join the quartet. The program will begin with Voyage for flute and strings, composed by John Corigliano. On August 11, the quartet will perform alone in the first part of the program, and in the second clarinetist Fernando Domínguez, from Ensamble Onix, will join them to play Brahms’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B minor, op. 115.
Ensamble Onix will perform on Sunday, August 12. The group is made up of Mexican musicians, teachers at the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico). They play Latin American music, and their program will include Suite para Violín, Clarinete y Piano (Suite for Violin, Clarinet and Piano, op. 157b) by Darius Milhaud and Silencio en Juárez (Silence in Juárez), composed for clarinet, violin, cello and piano by Juan Pablo Contreras, from Guadalajara, Jalisco.
The Chamber Music Festival will close with performances by the Atlanta Chamber Players, an ensemble that has toured and been acclaimed in more than 250 cities in the US and Europe. Its founder and director, Paula Peace, said at a press conference that she first came to San Miguel de Allende two summers ago and was happy to discover that the Chamber Music Festival is held here every August. This year, for the third and last week of the Festival, six members of the Atlanta Chamber Players will join her to participate.
“We believe that chamber music is a form of classical music that is deep and personal, but powerful and exciting. Our goal will be to present adventurous programs that touch the heart,” said Peace. She said that in their program of concerts they will present works by Beethoven and Brahms, “above all, the favorite pieces of the audiences,” and they will also present works that have never been performed before in Latin America. “We are glad to be performing the Vox Baleanae (Voice of the Whale), a work inspired by the “singing” of the humpback whale. At the composer’s request (George Crumb), we will be wearing black masks, and our trio of flute, cello and piano will be amplified to create a sound “bigger than life,” commented Peace. The director of Atlanta Chamber Players also commented that she is proud to present the world premiere of a work that combines American and Mexican melodies. “We want to share our passion for chamber music with the San Miguel audience,” concluded Peace. See the Festivals and Events section of Qué Pasa for the entire program.
Academic program and free concerts
During the 34 years of the Chamber Music Festival in San Miguel de Allende the performers have offered master classes to Mexican music students awarded scholarships through the Festival. In 2011, the students gave free concerts on the streets of San Miguel; this year, the free concerts will be held at the Ángela Peralta Theater, and donations will be requested to help the students continue their education.
Concerts will be held from August 3 to 19 at the Ángela Peralta Theater (corner of Mesones and Hernández Macías) at 7pm, Sundays at 5pm. The tickets will be sold at the theater box office and cost between 150 and 450 pesos. The organizers of the festival have different promotions. For more information, call 154-8722, or check the website at www.festivalsanmiguel.com.