San Miguel’s International Music Festival forms alliance with Celaya Music Conservatory

By Camie Sands

“Music was my refuge,” said the late poet Maya Angelou, a sentiment shared by many, although there are those who would go even further and say that music was their salvation. Aurora Cárdenas Ávila, the director of the music conservatory in downtown Celaya, can cite at least one example among her institute’s many students: a boy named Miguel, from an impoverished family in a small town about two hours from Celaya. When Miguel’s father died, the boy was eking out a subsistence living as a mariachi violinist. Then someone told him about the music conservatory, and before long, he had enrolled. “He’s now playing in the [conservatory] orchestra, and has become a very good musician” with a promising future, Cárdenas says. “We’ve had many students from poor or dysfunctional families come here, and it’s changed their lives.”

Cárdenas, herself a cellist, had her own formative experience as a student two decades ago, in San Miguel, as a guest of the San Miguel Music Festival’s vital academic program. For more than 35 years, the Festival has featured some of the world’s finest classical musicians, and those musicians, in addition to performing, give master classes for young students. Cárdenas received invaluable coaching from Astrid Schween, then the cellist for The Lark Quartet.

Now the wheel has come full circle, and Cárdenas will be sending students, two dozen at a time, to San Miguel during the run of the Festival, for high-level coaching with this year’s world-class concert musicians. The featured groups this year, all of them marquee-name ensembles, are: the Borromeo String Quartet (July 31 and August 1); the Gryphon Trio (August 9 and 10); the Calder Quartet (August 15 and 16); and the Claremont Trio (August 22 and 23). The Gryphon, a Juno Award-winning piano trio ensemble (i.e., piano, violin, and cello), will travel to Celaya to conduct master classes at the conservatory. The three other master classes will take place at the Teatro Angela Peralta in downtown San Miguel, and Festival patrons will be invited to attend these fascinating sessions as spectators (see below).

The Celaya conservatory has roughly 600 students between the ages of five and 26. Cárdenas says that the group of two dozen who will be transported each weekend to San Miguel will vary from week to week, giving as many young musicians as possible the opportunity to perform for, and receive coaching from, the visiting concert artists. The coaching is “important,” Cárdenas says, because “the groups that are coming to perform at the festival are at a very high level.” Steve Singer, the festival board member who oversees the academic program, concurs: “It’s exciting to put developing talent with world class musicians – a phenomenal opportunity for those students to improve.” The students who get to take part in the San Miguel academic program, Cárdenas adds, will typically be chosen from the more advanced students who perform in the conservatory orchestra.

The academic program has long been a crucial part of the San Miguel Festival, which in recent years has gained in international stature. The program is a point of pride for a city known for both its culture and its philanthropy. But there is an added benefit for the city. The advanced students who participate will be giving public performances at a number of local businesses– the times and venues to be announced on the festival website,

General seating tickets to the eight concerts go on sale July 1 at the Teatro Ángela Peralta, but subscriptions, and the more elite patron packages, may be purchased now at the Festival office on the second floor of Bellas Artes, Hernández Macías 75, 10am to 4pm, (415) 154-8722, or via email, Patrons get reserved seating at all eight concerts, invitation to four post-concert parties, and entrée to master classes. Patron packages start at US$500, and qualify for a charitable tax receipt.


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