The 35th San Miguel Chamber Music Festival begins July 28
By Stan Gray
When San Miguel de Allende was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2008, the city was being honored not merely for its history and its architecture, but for its well-deserved reputation as a center for culture. Certainly one of the city’s prime cultural assets is its international chamber music festival, which in recent years has grown in worldwide stature. It is a tribute to the festival, for instance, that the Parker Quartet, which has been invited to perform all over the world since winning the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance, is returning to San Miguel this season, and that Shai Wosner, an internationally acclaimed concert pianist regarded as one of the finest of his generation, is making his first appearance. But all 11 concerts this season are notable, and boast more variety than in many previous years. Apart from the usual high standard of string quartet playing, this year’s festival will include a thrilling contemporary Latin American quintet; one of the world’s most celebrated piano trio ensembles; and a multisensory spectacle combining light and video with acoustic and electronic music. Along with generous helpings of Mozart, Beethoven and Dvorák, concertgoers will hear a number of works by contemporary composers, many of those works being performed in San Miguel for the first time.
The Enso String Quartet kicks off the festival on July 26 with quartets by Mozart, Bartók and Grieg, and returns the following evening with works by Boccherini, Janácek and Beethoven. The Enso, which has enjoyed rave reviews (“glorious,” proclaimed the Washington Post of a recent performance), will be followed, on August 2 and 3, by the Daedalus String Quartet, praised by the New Yorker as “an exceptionally refined young ensemble,” and by the New York Times as “insightful and vibrant,” performing works by Haydn, Britten, Mendelssohn and Smetana, among others.
The Enso and Daedalus concerts, which should not be missed, will provide the perfect musical context for the rather different sonorities of the concert immediately following, on August 4. The Onix Ensamble, a Mexican-based quintet of flute, clarinet, cello, violin, and piano, was founded in 1993 by flutist Alejandro Escuer, who is also the San Miguel chamber festival’s artistic director. The Onix’s repertoire is grounded in contemporary music, much of it from Latin America, including works that the group has commissioned. Among its concert offerings on August 4 are pieces by four living composers, Armando Luna, Gabriela Ortiz, and Samuel Zyman of Mexico, and US born Sebastian Currier, along with piano solo works of the Argentinean composer Alberto Ginestera. The Classical Music Review summed up the Onix Ensamble thus: “Unique in Latin America, exceptional, hypnotic…with amazing strength and musical expressiveness.”
The Canadian-based Gryphon Trio (violin, cello and piano), will give two performances, on August 9 and 10, featuring piano trios of Haydn, Shostakovich, Mendelssohn, Mozart and Ravel, along with the tango-influenced Milonga del Angel of Ástor Piazzolla. Winner of several Juno awards – Canada’s equivalent of the Grammy – the Gryphon has in its 20 years of existence recorded virtually all the great piano trios of the 18th through 20th centuries, and meanwhile has commissioned and premiered over 75 new works by contemporary composers.
The performers of Luminico, who will make their San Miguel debut on August 11, have created their own multisensory artform, combining light, video, electronic music, wind instruments, percussion, sound diffusion, and poetry into what cannot properly be called just a concert, but rather a visual and sonic experience. Based in Mexico City, Luminico has performed in cities such as Chicago, Winnipeg and Krakow, and just recently gave the closing concert at the celebrated Festival für Klang und Bewegte Visuelle Kunst in Hanover, Germany.
The Grammy-winning Parker String Quartet, which will perform works of Bartók, Dvorák, Mozart, Beethoven and Schulhoff on August 15 and August 17, has been hailed by the New York Times as “something extraordinary.” For its final performance on August 17, the Parker has programmed Dvorák’s much-admired Piano Quintet in A, and the string ensemble, in need of a pianist to perform the piece, specifically requested Israeli-born Shai Wosner, who is emerging as one of the finest concert pianists of his generation. Wosner not only accepted the invitation, but also agreed to give a solo piano recital at the festival, one devoted almost entirely to the piano music of Franz Schubert, on August 16.
During the two weeks of the festival, there will also be a number of free concerts, all of them of considerably high quality, courtesy of the festival’s Academic Program. The dates and times will be announced.
Dirk Bakker, the current president of the festival, says he is particularly pleased with this season’s variety, in terms of both instrumentation and repertoire. He notes that five of the 11 concerts prominently feature the piano – a higher percentage than in many past seasons – along with works by a number of lesser-known composers. He adds, “It’s important for me to be able say that a good amount of what is played at the festival is work you’ve never heard before – but of a quality so high, you’ll love what you hear.”
Tickets are on sale now in the Festival office in the Bellas Artes at Hernández Macías 75, second floor, 10am-4pm for 150/350/450 pesos. 154-8722, festivalsanmiguel.com.