You serve as the Chamber Music Director of the San Antonio Classical Music Institute, and you are a very active chamber musician. How did you go about founding this festival? Can you tell us about your philosophy regarding playing chamber music and why it is essential to your professional career?
Since I came from a family of educators, I really value education — an essential component of what I do. I wanted to start something that would reflect that and connect with the community at the same time. We (the chamber orchestra) had been going to San Antonio to play concerts and solo recitals. We wanted to start an educational program that would make an impact and one through which we could have the chance to work with kids who don’t have many opportunities, kids who don’t have the financial means to have regular private lessons and so on. We started the summer institute about six years ago, and it’s grown quite a bit. We bring in great world-class musicians. Of course, our sixth year was slightly reduced due to Covid and social distancing. But we still had a fantastic time, and I think the kids got a lot out of it. The faculty consists of about 40% of faculty from other places like New York’s Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, alumni from the Marlboro Music Festival and professional musicians from Germany. We bring more than half our faculty from American colleges and universities. We also ask talented Spanish-speaking graduate students to serve as faculty. Some of them didn’t have many professional opportunities in their home countries, and so they went to study in the U.S., having work to pay their own way. We pay them exactly the same as the other faculty. They are so good at teaching kids. They really know how to connect with them and are great role models for them. 95% of the students we hire are of Spanish background, most of them Mexican Americans. That way, the kids have great mentors who can communicate with them in language and music. I met a lot of them when I used to go to Venezuela to El Sistema to play. I feel that it’s an excellent opportunity for both the artists and teachers and also the students.
As far as chamber music, nowadays, most soloists play a lot of chamber music as well. I feel solo music and chamber music are so complementary. For example, if we play solos with a piano, it’s very much like playing in a trio or piano quartet; you need the same skills. I have learned the most, even more than from any lesson, from playing with others, by playing with people who are a lot better and more experienced than I am. We were talking about Midori earlier, and, of course, her lessons were terrific. I have learned so much from playing with her in a string quartet setting, for example. There’s nothing better than learning on the job; you get so much more out of it.
On the one hand, you get musical insights. But also, you learn a lot by just seeing and hearing people play. Playing chamber music helps me much more than a teacher telling me what I should change or do differently.
The beautiful thing about music is the collaboration and that you don’t even need to speak the same language. I’ve played with people who can barely speak English but know Spanish, and you can still understand one another through the music. You make it work through the music. And that’s a beautiful thing.