The Filarmónica de Querétaro splits its masterworks and pops performances principally between two halls: the downtown Teatro de la Republica, finished in 1852 (and ultimately named for where Mexico’s Constitution was signed in 1917)…
…and the more contemporary Teatro Metropolitano, built in 2012 and perched atop a huge hill overlooking the city from its suburban south side.
In talking about the Querétaro Philharmonic it’s helpful to backtrack a bit to mention the Mexican classical music industry that surrounds it. Most of México’s orchestras are funded by the government, and until 2000 when Mexico’s one-party rule was finally disrupted, orchestras’ budgets came ultimately from the one political party: the PRI (which stands for the Party of Institutional Revolution). In order to effectively secure funding for their orchestras, Music Directors traditionally have had to closely align themselves with the PRI, be it on a municipal, state or federal level.
Querétaro’s orchestra, until the mid 1990’s, was actually Guanajuato’s state orchestra (based in Guanajuato City) until the State suddenly cut off all funding. So, the orchestra picked up and moved ninety miles southeast to the city and state of Querétaro. But the new ‘host state’ didn’t exactly roll out its financial ‘welcome mat’ and the Filarmónica could only secure funds from a smallish government department called La Secretaría de Cultura, which functions on a limited budget.
To address these limitations, the orchestra ultimately formed its own association and Board of Directors, somewhat in the mold of orchestras in the USA. During this period of transition they also found themselves needing to replace retiring Music Director José Guadalupe Flores. A young conductor from the nearby city of Morelia, Ludwig Carrasco, was the lone Mexican on a short list of otherwise European conductors to replace Flores, and his highly successful audition week conducting the orchestra ultimately catapulted him to the Music Director’s position. Ironically, after his stint as Guest Conductor, the orchestra Board never followed up with him to confirm if he was still a contender for the job. So he was quite pleasantly stunned when, months later, they finally reached out to tell him he’d won the audition.
The morning after the concert, I met Carrasco for a leisurely chat over breakfast. His musical background intrigued me on a number of levels, one of them being: though it took place in very different periods, we both used to play in the Louisville Orchestra in our younger days, and share a number of mutual friends from our times there.
Carrasco’s educational background and professional career has, for many years, had him jetting about between Mexico, Europe and the USA. In addition to studies in Mexico City, Lucerne and Madrid, he also trained at the North Carolina School of the Arts, North Texas University, Northwestern and Eastman. Currently residing in Madrid, his work as both conductor and violinist continues to take him to many of the great concert halls on both sides of the Atlantic.
Interestingly, the Filarmonica’s non-affiliation with Querétaro’s state government lines up perfectly with one of Carrasco’s professional choices: his own non-affiliation with the PRI or with any of Mexico’s traditional political order. In the past this would have been disastrous to any Mexican conductor’s career. But as the country rounds a political corner with the inauguration of its new populist President López Obrador, Carrasco is hopeful that his own angle on leadership – honed from years of exposure to the workings of U.S. and European orchestras – as well as the collaboration with the Filarmonica’s new Board of Directors can help position the orchestra towards a positive new direction for the future. He hopes that he and the Association can ultimately develop new funding sources from philanthropy and from Queretaro’s growing international corporate sector: a concept still quite new to most Mexican orchestras.
But turning from the traditional reliance on government subsidy and towards creating new funding sources means first creating more of a regional artistic ‘buzz.’ So, he’s already injecting more diversity of repertoire in the orchestra’s programming and has plans to include Mexican symphonic music more regularly in upcoming seasons. He and the Filarmónica also recently created two ongoing national artist competitions – one for younger Mexican musicians, and another for soloists over thirty – with both groups competing on works exclusively written by Mexican composers. The older group will also compete for inclusion as Guest Soloists on the Filarmónica’s 2019-20 season.
Carrasco has also broadened the roster of the orchestra’s guest soloists and has begun arranging Masterclasses for them through a local university to inspire and help train Querétaro’s young musicians. Events such as these, along with the Orchestra’s chamber group outreach concerts, combine to help build a sense of community awareness and pride towards its symphony while working to expand the orchestra’s connections back into the community. And while these activities may be common to orchestras north of the Rio Grande where government funding is quite scarce, these are still groundbreaking concepts for most Mexican orchestras.
When going through a conductor search, one often hears the orchestra musicians saying they hope to land someone that, musically, will take them to that next level. It’s still early in Ludwig’s tenure, but I have a sense that he will succeed in Querétaro and indeed, provide that solid artistic jolt for which the players hunger. To my eyes, it appears that not only has the Filarmónica captured Ludwig’s imagination of what is possible, but that he has accomplished the same for the musicians, as well; and over time, THAT can be a powerful combination. It will be both interesting and fun to follow this orchestra during the next few years under Carrasco’s vision. I wish them all well.