The Festival de Febrero is fast approaching, and skimming through their program reveals many musicians to be excited about.
I’m personally looking forward to seeing Alexander Sebastian, one of the world’s greatest accordion players, perform an all-Bach program. One of my friends keeps raving about David Fung’s virtuosic piano playing and another is biting her nails to see Quartetto Gelato again. But there is one performer this year who everyone is excited about: violinist Julian Rachlin.
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that probably the biggest star to ever attend the festival is a violinist, given that Artistic Director Christopher Wilshere is himself a respected and accomplished violinist.
Rachlin is a musician who regularly performs in the most prestigious concert halls, including Carnegie Hall, Avery Fischer Hall, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Vienna Musikverein and the Royal Albert Hall in London.
And the Auditorio de la Ribera in Ajijic? How did this come to pass?
According to Wilshere, it all happened quickly and somewhat serendipitously. In 2016, less than a month before the 14th festival season began, he was putting the final touches of the program together. He had programmed two violinists to perform the Four Seasons of both Antonio Vivaldi and Astor Piazzola for the gala concert. But he received a message from the violinists who felt they had bitten off a little more than they could chew.
“I remember getting the message just as I was getting on an airplane in Guadalajara to go up to Canada,” says Wilshere. In a bit of a panic, he started to think about other violinists attending that year who may have performed one of these concertos. “I remember connecting in Cancun and using their internet lounge to email a few musicians, to see if anyone could substitute in. Of course I was extremely worried because they would only have a few weeks to learn the pieces and they are very challenging. Even for some of the best violinists in the world, to learn just one of those two concertos could take as long as six months.”
With his fingers crossed, the first person he emailed was Sarah MacElravy, an exceptional violinist who was already set to attend that year. When he connected in Houston she had already written back. Wilshere says he was standing in the world’s longest line-up to get through immigration and remembers his heart sinking when he read the first couple of sentences of her email. “Thank you so much for the opportunity to perform. Unfortunately, to learn either one of those concertos I’d need many months to prepare. There just isn’t enough time.”
It seemed that Wilshere’s fears had been validated. There was no way he was going to find a violinist or violinists to learn these concertos in time, and he’d have to do something dramatic and change the program entirely. But then he read the next paragraph of MacElravy’s message which started with, “I do have an idea though ... kind of a crazy idea but could be exciting.”
She went on to talk about this guy she had started dating and that he just recorded both the Vivaldi and Piazzola Four Seasons with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and knew them really well. Wilshere’s eyes started to light up. Then she told him “the guy” she was dating was none other than the famous violinist Julian Rachlin and that he might be convinced to come and perform.
“I nearly had a heart attack, in a good way” says Wilshere. He of course jumped at the opportunity and after a few pleasant conversations with Rachlin and MacElravy over Skype, the great violinist was on board.
Rachlin couldn’t make it back last year because of a scheduled conducting appearance with the Israel Philharmonic, but both he and MacElravy (who is also in high demand as a soloist and chamber musician) made a great effort to return for this year’s festival. Not as boyfriend or girlfriend, but as an engaged couple to be married this summer. Ajijic and the Festival de Febrero now hold a special place in both their hearts.
There isn’t any questioning the fact that some people enter your life at the exact point of need, want or desire – it’s sometimes a coincidence and most times fate, but whatever it is, it’s certain to make us smile.
Julian Rachlin plays at the Auditorio de la Ribera Saturday, February 24, 7:30 p.m.