New artistic director for Music Festival
By Fredric Dannen
In 2010, members of the San Miguel Chamber Music Festival board of directors began to hear enthusiastic reports – what is colloquially called “buzz” – about a group out of Mexico City called the ONIX Ensemble, a quintet of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, that made its debut during last year’s festival. Apart from providing one of the most thrilling concerts of the season, there was a bonus for the festival, as Dr. Alejandro Escuer, the ONIX’s flutist and musical director, shared a progressive vision for the future of the festival – one that was in harmony with the objectives of the board. Late last year, the board appointed Escuer to the post of artistic director, and also named him head of the festival’s much-heralded academic program.
Along with this appointment Escuer still maintains a backbreaking schedule as a tenured professor of music at UNAM, a visiting professor at Columbia University in New York, and as a composer, soloist, recording artist, and touring concert artist with his ONIX Ensemble and his other, more avant-garde group, Lumínico. It is difficult to imagine how Escuer manages to juggle so many activities – that is, until you meet him. Born in Mexico City in 1963, Escuer is slender and elegant, but possessed of restless energy and at times almost delirious enthusiasm. (His wife, the celebrated Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz, has dubbed him “the mad flute player.”) He studied at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City, got a soloist degree from the Sweelinck Conservatorium in Amsterdam in 1991, and a PhD in music performance from New York University in 1995. The noted composer Robert Dick calls him “the best creative flutist for contemporary music in the world.”
As the festival’s new academic director, Escuer is taking charge of a program with a proven track record. This year, roughly 30 students, from Mexico, Costa Rica, and Colombia, have enrolled. They will attend master classes given by formidable musicians, and Escuer will also introduce a few less traditional courses as well. “We’re going to have round-table discussions on things like, how can you sustain your chamber group as an enterprise?” He also plans to help students with another key challenge: overcoming stage fright. As in past seasons, these talented students and post-graduate musicians will give free recitals to be announced on the festival’s website daily from July 26.
As artistic director, Escuer will bring more professional Mexican chamber musicians and soloists to the festival, but he is careful to point out that his plans for the growth of the festival and its ensuing reputation are evolutionary, not radical. The masterpieces of Western music have always been, and always will be, a central component of every season. He adds, “You have to keep a balance, I think, of being traditional but new at the same time.” Audiences will experience Escuer’s mark on this year’s 35th Anniversary season taking place in San Miguel from July 26 to August 17, at the Teatro Angela Peralta.
Tickets for 11 world-class concerts are on sale now at the festival office in Bellas Artes and after July 15, at the Teatro Angela Peralta’s box office. All performing groups, concert dates, music programs and academic program information can be found at festivalsanmiguel.com or call 154-8722.