Monday, November 18, 2013

A Visionary's Dream in A Cappella

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Miguel Bernal Jimenez had a dream for his hometown of Morelia, Michoacan. He longed for the colonial jewel to be known as the “Salzburg of the Americas”. Half a century later, The Morelia Music Festival, known as  Festival Internacional de Musica de Morelia Miguel Bernal Jimenez  is celebrating its twenty five year anniversary. Last night I attended the Oxford Choir’s concert in Morelia’s Government Palace. Before the concert began the festival general director (and granddaughter of composer Miguel Bernal Jimenez) Veronica Bernal Vargas and president of the music festival´s trust Carlos Felipe de Habsburgo, presented all of the festival’s artistic directors with the Miguel Bernal Jimenez Prize. Afterwards, James Burton lead the twenty five choristes through some of the UK’s most celebrated composers. Concert goers sat in the main outdoor courtyard. Cobalt blue and mauveine lights lit the Palace’s limestone walls. Outside another concert’s operatic tunes softly broke the silence between the choir’s songs.  Alfredo Zalce’s murals seemed to look on as a nocturnal bird sang in reply, church bells chimed and the Oxford Choir sang Orlando Gibbon’s “O clap your hands”.
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MBJ’s vision in that space of time is as clear as Morelia’s cloudless winter days. It is crisp, joyous, it sings, it hums, it buzzes and vibrates. For a moment, the narco violent reality that we currently live in Michoacan vanishes, the corruption that plagues our state is gone: if only we could use music as a weapon. I reflect on MBJ’s vision. We might be a long way off from being the Salzburg of the Americas but there is no doubt in my mind that cultural events like these are changing lives for the better. This concert fills me with hope.  The Oxford Choir appeals to my traditional choir education at an all girl’s Catholic school back home in New York. While I usually listen to “sexier” versions of a capella, like Pentatonix, sitting in the presence of the Oxford Choir is like coming home.

The 2013 edition of Morelia’s Music Festival  will continue until November 24th. For more information please visit the festival’s website at

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