Uninterrupted melody: The San Miguel Chamber Festival is revitalized and coming soon

By Fredric Dannen

Ginny and Alberto

Last year, between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, a letter to the editor appeared in this newspaper, addressed “To all lovers of chamber music,” and it contained bad news. Since 1979, for 35 consecutive seasons, the San Miguel Festival de Música de Cámera had been one of the city’s cultural highlights, but now, in the words of festival president Dirk Bakker, there would be a one-year, or longer, “hiatus.” The festival, Bakker explained, was solidly in the black, but the 2013 season had included nearly a dozen more concerts than originally planned, due to a last-minute government grant, leaving the board and volunteer staff “totally exhausted,” and in need of a respite. It seemed “prudent,” Bakker added, to suspend the festival until new board members and volunteers could be recruited.

The shock of this announcement, which also ran in the festival newsletter, extended as far north as Canada, prompting one music lover there to write an urgent email to a friend, Virginia “Ginny” Green, who in 2011 had retired as a senior vice president of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Green, a longtime visitor turned homeowner in San Miguel, had acted as an advisor to the chamber festival for a number of years. Couldn’t Green, her friend inquired, do something to save the festival?

As it turned out, she could. Green offered to step in as executive director, with the proviso that, in addition to Bakker, two of the hardest-working festival board members–Camilla Sands, Barbara Porter and Stan Gray–would agree to stay on, exhausted or not. Her terms were accepted, and there was no more talk of a hiatus. The festival will open this year on July 31, and conclude on August 23, and will feature four world-renowned ensembles, along with a number of “patrimonial” events – concerts with free admission – to be announced. “Those of us who said we were too tired to go forward said, ‘We’ll go with you, Ginny,’” Sands relates. “We trust her.”

Small wonder. Green has been involved in music and the arts for a good portion of her career, always on the business side, and has consistently made the institutions for which she worked more financially stable, in some cases by doubling the donor base. “We like to see the arts presented in a fiscally responsible way,” Green says. Before joining the Toronto Symphony she was director of development for the Shaw Festival in Ontario, for an elite girls’ boarding school, and for the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto.

The decision of the existing board members to remain is a clear vote of confidence in Green’s stewardship. So is the addition of four new board members, including the classical harpist Ángel Padilla, and the Mexican artist Alberto Lenz, who last year took over as director of El Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramirez El Nigromante on Hernandez Macias, commonly known as the Bellas Artes.

Lenz, like Green, arrives with a formidable resumé, and his presence on the board has generated a good deal of excitement within the organization. A noted sculptor and painter whose work has been exhibited in Europe, the United States and Canada, Lenz also has a  PhD in urbanism and cultural development, and since 2006 has been involved in enriching urban areas with public art. In his first year as Bellas Artes director (along with Mónica Hoth, the new academic coordinator) Lenz has already put his mark on the institution, making the cultural center seem edgier and more exciting than ever before, yet also more accessible. (The large scrap-metal and rebar sculpture of a bull, by the late David Kestenbaum, was placed outside the Bellas Artes at Lenz’s instigation.)

At Bellas Artes, Lenz has endeavored to promote Mexican culture, and he sees his mandate at the chamber festival in the same way. The festival has formed an alliance with the Conservatorio de Música de Celaya, and this summer students at the conservatory will benefit from master classes given by some of the premier artists who are scheduled to perform. Lenz notes that over the years the chamber festival has largely been a foreigner-dominated venture. “My duty here is to try to foster more Mexican participation, both in terms of the artists and the public,” he says. “I recently had dinner with the secretary of tourism for the state of Guanajuato. He recognizes the importance of the festival for the city and the state, and the opportunity to present more Mexican groups and – these were his exact word – to ‘socialize’ the festival.” Lenz adds, “I totally agree.”

General seating tickets to each of the eight concerts go on sale July 1 at the Ángela Peralta Theater. Past patrons and subscribers may renew beginning April 7. To become a first-time patron or subscriber, please email patrons@festivalsanmiguel.com. Patrons and subscribers enjoy reserved seating at all concerts, and patrons are invited to receptions for the chamber musicians, in private homes. Patron support begins with a donation of US$1,000. For more info go to: www.festivalsanmiguel.com.


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