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Chamber Music Festival Brings World-Class Ensembles—for Repeat Visits

Cuarteto Latinamericano

By Jesús Aguado

02/08/2019

When chamber music groups are at their best, their members engage in a musical conversation, answering one another’s questions and finishing one another’s sentences.

San Miguel’s annual Festival de Música de Cámara, or Chamber Music Festival, regularly achieves that sort of greatness. After four decades, the festival has the clout to attract internationally sought-after musicians. This year’s guests have generated excitement in a variety of quarters. The Pittsburgh Post said about the Mexican string quartet, Cuarteto Latinoamericano, “The members of this ensemble play with a rapport that verges on telepathic.” Of Canada’s Gryphon Trio, the Washington Post wrote, “Any decent trio can create a dialog between instruments; the Gryphon conjures a conversation of sound.” Of Symphonie Atlantique, an early-music chamber orchestra from The Hague that performs on period instruments, the website Bachtrack says, “Each voice has a distinct character and function, aiming for individuality of musical line rather than mass of sound.” The New Yorker has called Philadelphia’s Dover Quartet “the young string quartet of the moment.”

This year’s festival, which runs August 2-31, will showcase nine concerts at the Teatro Ángela Peralta on Friday and Saturday nights. There will also be two special events and a master class open to the public at the Ángela Peralta Theater on August 3 at 10am.

A notable reunion

The festival has a habit of showing its guest musicians such a good time that they eagerly return: This year, the Gryphon is making its third appearance, the Dover its second. The Grammy Award-winning quartet Cuarteto Latinoamericano played the festival for an entire decade.

From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, the Cuarteto performed annually at the festival as musicians in residence, in part thanks to Sanmiguelense James Henry “Tom” Sawyer, an amateur violinist who cofounded the festival.

The Cuarteto is also an example of how the festival supports young talent. After its festival residency the Cuarteto went on to a world tour and a busy recording schedule of more than 80 CDs, including nearly the entire existing Latin American string quartet repertoire. The quartet has won Grammys for its albums Brasileiro (2012) and El Hilo Invisible (2016). The Los Angeles Times gushed, “Any quartet we’re likely to hear will be hard-pressed to equal, much less surpass, the playing of the Cuarteto Latinoamericano.” Violinist Saúl Bitrán says the quartet’s long residency in San Miguel was a finishing school for the quartet and a major factor in its success.
The Cuarteto will open the festival, with concerts on Friday, August 2 and Saturday, August 3. Friday’s concert will include string quartet works by J.S. Bach, Ástor Piazzolla, George Gershwin, and Javier Álvarez, while Saturday’s will feature Purcell, Piazzolla, and Philip Glass. Both concerts will feature celebrated Israeli soprano Sivan Rotem and Russian pianist Nargiza Kamilova. The program will include Catalan folk songs and Argentinean tangos on August 2 and arias by Mozart and Handel and Israeli songs on August 3.

A unique music festival

Appearing the following weekend will be the Dover Quartet, which swept the 2013 Banff Competition, winning every prize in every category. The group has been wooed by pretty much every major festival on the planet, but what particularly draws its members to San Miguel, says cellist Camden Shaw, is that this festival invites ensembles to determine it own program. “The San Miguel format is wonderful,” Shaw says. “It’s like a miniresidency.”

On August 9, the group will perform Webern’s Langsamer Satz, Beethoven’s String Quartet No 2 in G, and Dvořák’s String Quartet No 14 in A-flat. For the August 10 show, it will perform Britten’s String Quartet No 1 in D, Beethoven’s String Quartet No 11 in F minor, and Shostakovich’s String Quartet No 9 in E-flat.

Friday, August 16, and Saturday, August 17 will feature the Gryphon Trio, widely recognized as Canada’s finest violin/cello/piano ensemble. The group chose its name, says cellist Roman Borys, because the mythological gryphon “was purported to be the guardian of treasures.”

The trio’s repertoire includes Beethoven and Brahms, which they’ll perform on August 16, and Haydn and Schubert, which will be featured on August 17. The group also commissioned new works for these performances, including Love Triangle, by Sri Lankan-born Canadian composer Dinuk Wijeratne.

The Symphonie Atlantique, an up-and-coming chamber music group known for performing on period instruments, makes its festival debut this season on August 23, 24, and 30 with concerts of baroque, classical, and Romantic works.

Special events

The Symphonie Atlantique will also be featured in two special events. On Wednesday, August 21, at 7:30pm, in the new Auditorio Renaciamiento in Léon, Guanajuato, the ensemble will perform baroque works, followed by a reception. On Saturday, August 31, it will perform at the Hacienda Santa Clara in San Miguel in a gala closing-night celebration.

Tickets for all 11 events are on sale online at boletocity.com and for all but the León concert at Boleto City, Mercado Sano, Ancha de San Antonio 123, 11am–5pm from Monday–Saturday. Unsold tickets, priced at 150-725 pesos, will be available at the Ángela Peralta Theater box office on concert days only. Please visit FestivalSanMiguel.com for more information.

 

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