Magazine article The Tracker

The Ninth International Organ and Early Music Festival in Oaxaca, Mexico

Magazine article The Tracker

The Ninth International Organ and Early Music Festival in Oaxaca, Mexico

Article excerpt

FEBRUARY 15-20, 2012


A SELDOM-CONSIDERED result of Columbus's epochal voyage in 1492 was the explosive expansion of the world of the organ. At this time both Spain and Portugal already had rich organ cultures. They quickly sent out priests to convert that natives of these new lands, and early on discovered the seductive power music contributed to their efforts - especially the rich and penetrating tones of the organ. The first cathedral in the new world, Santa María la Menor in Santo Domingo, was completed in 1541 and surely had an organ soon.

The first organs were introduced to the new cathedral in Oaxaca City by 1544, only 22 years after the Spanish took possession of the area in 1522, and only 24 years after Cortés began the conquest of the Aztec empire. Within a short time there were numerous churches across the state of Oaxaca and organs were soon provided for many of them. We are fortunate that a precious few of these 16th-century instruments survive, and some have been restored so that we can hear the brightly colored sounds that were so attractive to the natives of this realm. Oaxaca has been a center of human residence and activity for thousands of years and many traditions of the Mixtees and Zapotees, among other ethnic groups, live on and have blended with the culture introduced by the Spanish friars.

The Ninth International Festival sponsored by the Instituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca (IOHIO, pronounced "yo-yo" for short) gave its participants an exciting glimpse into the riches of this culture. Oaxaca City, the capital of the state, is about 300 miles southeast of Mexico City. The state has several interesting regions but the festival confined its excursions to the capital city, the valley to the southeast, and the Mixteca Alta to the north.

Mexico's revival of interest in its old organs began in earnest in the 1970s, but even earlier there had been tantalizing reports about them from a variety of travelers to this colorful nation. The restoration of the two monumental organs in the Mexico City Cathedral by Dirk Flentrop (1975-1978) doubtless provided an impetus for awakening appreciation of the country's colonial musical heritage. In the decade ending in 2000, seven organs in Oaxaca had been restored. Unfortunately, after a brief spurt of enthusiasm, these instruments largely fell silent. To find a solution to this, Edward Pepe and Cicely Winter co-founded in 2000 the Instituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca. Pepe, an organist and co-founder of the Westfield Center for Early Keyboard Studies, had a rich understanding of, and enthusiasm for, old organs. Cicely Winter, the vivacious wife of archeologist Marcus Winter, had been a resident of Oaxaca since 1972 and, through the work of her husband, had a keen appreciation of the importance of historical conservation. Pepe left the institute in 2004 for archival studies and Cicely Winter has since been at its helm.

Special acknowledgment is due to philanthropist and music lover, Alfredo Harp Helú, who has not only provided generous financial support of the institute, but also his personal enthusiasm. Señor Harp was present at several of the concerts in this festival. He has been instrumental in the most recent restorations of the monumental organs in the Mexico City Cathedral.

One of the principal aims of the institute was to maintain interest in the restored organs by sponsoring concerts. In 2001, these individual events were consolidated into the first International Festival, and these have continued, bringing to Oaxaca some of the best organists in the world. Other aims include encouraging the preservation of the old instruments, cataloging them in great detail (some 70 so far), and, promoting the interests of an Oaxacan organ culture. IOHIO has a superb website and I strongly urge you to explore it in order to learn much more about Oaxacan organs than can be covered in this article, www. …

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