If you’re one of the many expats living in Ajijic, there’s a lot of reasons to be thankful as February approaches. Of course, seeing all your friends up North post screen shots of the temperature outside is one obvious reason to be thankful.
If you’re culturally minded, though, a very close second has to be the Northern Lights Festival de Febrero. Now entering its 16th season, the international classical and jazz music festival has become an integral part of the village’s history and is regarded as the centerpiece of musical culture here at Lakeside.
Every February, Ajijic welcomes about 30 world-class musicians from around the globe to participate in the festival’s two weeks of daily concerts. Some of them are seasoned musicians with tenured professorships at some of the world’s finest universities and conservatories, and others are young hot talents that are raising the artistic bar for their entire generation.
It’s hard to argue that it’s an exaggeration to call these musicians “world class” when you have soloists in attendance such as violinist Julian Rachlin, who just finished recording Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with Boris Kuschnir and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, or the young fiery pianist David Fung, who’s been called “stylish and articulate” with “superstar qualities” by the New York Times. Or how about virtuoso accordionist Alexander Sebastian, considered one of the top accordion players in the world, having won every major international accordion competition around the globe.
The ensembles are impressive too. The Gryphon Trio, which is making its fourth appearance at the festival, is considered one of the finest piano trios on the planet. The young and talented group The Manhattan Chamber Players all hail from the most elite conservatories in the world, such as Juilliard and Curtis.
If you’re not into the more serious classical stuff, there’s some lighter fare scattered throughout the two weeks. Quartetto Gelato opens the festival on February 16 performing a variety of tangos, gypsy music and folk songs, and Richard Underhill and his jazz band are always a fun night out. This year they’re performing at the Avocado Club instead of their usual Auditorio venue.
What a lot of people don’t see behind the curtain is the hard work that the festival does for the students of Mexico. This year, national auditions are being held to offer ten students a full scholarship to attend the two weeks of the festival. Their lodging and food will be provided, and they will receive five private lessons along with a daily rehearsal regimen of chamber music. The festival is even covering the travel costs of the students.
The festival has really spread its educational wings this year, and is hosting a two-week intensive international summer academy, taking place in Ajijic from August 11-26. This features some of the world’s most sought after teachers from institutions such as the Royal Academy of Music, the universities of McGill and Toronto, Peabody Conservatory and more. The new academy is called Festival del Lago.