From Dave Brezing
Embraced within the gilded sanctuary of St. Augustineâ€™s historic Cathedral Basilica, Floridaâ€™s most extraordinary chamber music festival returns in June for its eighth season.
The St. Augustine Music Festival, under artistic director Jorge A. PeÃ±a, has become a world-class occasion for celebrating classical music. Most extraordinary: Itâ€™s free and it will be live streamed on the web.
Festival dates areÂ June 19-21 and June 26-28, with all concerts beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Cathedral, 38 Cathedral Place, in downtown St. Augustine.
PeÃ±a, a native of Honduras, is a viola player with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. He and his cellist wife, Jin Kim PeÃ±a, started the music festival in 2007.
â€œWe felt that the famous history of St. Augustine, and the beauty and fantastic acoustics of the Cathedral, called for classical music to be a part of these community treasures,â€ PeÃ±a says.
The concerts are presented free of charge, but staging them requires year-round fund-raising in order to pay for performers, music, instrument rentals and other concert costs. The SAMF board of directors is very active in recruiting sponsors and donors that include institutions such as Florida Blue, the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, the St. Augustine Record and the St. Johns County Tourist Development Council. However, a large share of the budget is covered by tax-deductible donations from individuals.
Free concerts are essential to PeÃ±aâ€™s mission to bring in new, young audiences for classical music. â€œWe have removed the economic intimidation factor,â€ he says. â€œWe see entire families attending concerts that would be out of reach at the typical $35-$55 ticket price range for concerts of this caliber.â€
In a town prone to tourist-oriented spectacles, the festival is a low-key leader in bringing St. Augustine to a more sophisticated level of local cultural integrity, says SAMF board member Rhey Palmer. â€œSAMF from the start has been about authenticity, education, excellence and heart. The festivalâ€™s growth shows that audiences recognize and support the real thing.â€
Last yearâ€™s first-ever Web streaming of three concerts had immediate impact, he says.
â€œWe had Internet viewers and new supporters from around the world,â€ Palmer says. â€œAnd there was a noticeable increase in the number of young faces among the local Cathedral audiences after the Webcasts.â€ This year, all six concerts will be streamed live.
The concert series this year includes performances by the standard-setting Diaz Trio. Violinist Elissa Lee Koljonen, who dazzled audiences last year with her tango-pulsing â€œFour Seasons of Buenos Airesâ€ by Astor Piazzolla, returns with a Mozart concerto.
Violinist Andres Cardenes is back with four Vivaldi concertos. Brilliant guitarist Stephen Robinson and internationally acclaimed Jacksonville flautist Les Roettges, both North Florida favorites, will also be in the house.
A special treat: The sublime J.S. Bach â€œGoldberg Variationsâ€ in a rare, complete performance by pianist Eugenio Urrutia-Borlando. Visit www.StAugustineMusicFestival.org for more information.