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American Composer David Serkin Ludwig will assess four Mexican conservatory students' works in an online webinar which the public can watch along for free. American Composer David Serkin Ludwig will assess four Mexican conservatory students' works in an online webinar which the public can watch free.

Music festival gives young composers chance to learn from world’s best

David Serkin Ludwig gives latest master class in series that public can watch online

What does an emerging student composer have to learn from an older, more established one? Under the right circumstances, a great deal.

Consider the young, unknown Leonard Bernstein, studying composition with the already famous Aaron Copland. Copland could be merciless, once telling Bernstein his new piece was merely “warmed-over Scriabin” (the Russian composer), apart from two good bars.

“He’d say, ‘Take these two bars and start from there,’” Bernstein recalled years later.

Such insights did not discourage the young composer — they exhilarated him.

On Thursday, music students and enthusiasts can share in that same kind of exhilaration as American composer David Serkin Ludwig, whose choral work, The New Colossus, was performed at President Obama’s second inauguration, will give an online master class in composition to four young composers from music schools at the National Autonomous University (UNAM) and the National Institute of the Fine Arts (INBA).

Composer Maria Granilla, a professor of music at UNAM, will present to Ludwig works by her students Nicolas Hernández and Óscar Solís.
Composer Maria Granilla, a professor of music at UNAM, will present to Ludwig works by her students Nicolas Hernández and Óscar Solís.

During the two-hour class, which the festival will stream for free for the general public to watch in a webinar format, Ludwig will be evaluating the students’ pieces. A question-and-answer session will follow.

Ludwig’s seminar is the latest in a series of online master classes presented jointly by the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and the San Miguel Chamber Music Festival in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. The monthly online series, which began in September, has thus far been devoted to instrumental performance – clarinet, piano, cello, flute, and viola. Ludwig’s composition class is the first of its kind for the festival.

The series of classes has been very well received by music schools and students alike and has had as many as 125 observers throughout Mexico, said festival board member Mick Lockey. It also allows the Curtis Institute of Music, one of the most prestigious music conservatories in the world, to see the talent in Mexico, he said.

“The virtual master class is something very positive that has come out of this pandemic,” said Helenmarie Corcoran, festival president. “This is going to be an ongoing feature of the festival, a chance to spread our influence beyond weekend master classes with visiting musicians.”

During the class, professor María Granillo of UNAM will be presenting her students, Nicolas Hernández and Óscar Solís, with their works. Hernández’s work is “Danza en espacio gris” (“Dance in Gray Space”), for alto saxophone and piano. Solís’ work is titled “Glosolalias: 5 movimientos para quinteto de maderas y piano” (Glossolalias: 5 Movements for Woodwind and Piano Quintet”).

From the Escuela Superior de Música of INBA, professor José Enrique González Medina will present his students’ works: Erick Rodríguez’s “Café,” for saxophone quartet, and Alejandro Heredia’s “Recuperando el aliento” (“Catching My Breath”), for wind quintet.

Ludwig's work The New Colossus was performed at President Barack Obama's second inauguration.
David Ludwig, whose work The New Colossus was performed at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.

Previously in the series, all the online classes, presented over Zoom conference calls, have been conducted in Spanish. Ludwig’s class will be presented in English with the festival administrative director, Florencia Ojeda Carbajal, providing Spanish translation.

Free advance registration to watch Ludwig’s class is required.

World-class chamber musicians are tentatively scheduled to perform at this year’s festival, scheduled for August 12–28, although no decision has been yet made on whether there will, in fact, be live music this year.

Whatever transpires, the collaboration with the Curtis Institute, born of the pandemic, will remain a part of the festival’s mission to offer high-quality music instruction to the next generation of talented Mexican students.

Frederic Dannen writes about the music business for Billboard.

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