Thursday, 4 April 2013

Miracles in San Miguel de Allende

by Nancy Snipper

With over 500 years of history, San Miguel’s inspirational beauty not only comes from its colonial architecture colouring every corner among  its cobble-stone streets, but it also sparkles within the collective conscience of the people  themselves - the majority of whom possesses talents that have your senses reeling. It’s an awesome ambiance.  
This town beckons those with a knack for the spontaneous and a hunger for the arts. So much is going on here; the artistic energy is endless – as bounteous as the restaurants and art galleries that delight your senses. Is it any wonder that artists of every shape, colour and costume come from all over the world to perform? Some never leave.  
The Pearl behind Pro Musica

Michael Pearl, an ex-pat Brit and former theatre impresario. His visionary acumen and charismatic manner is not only accented by his delightfully eccentric comportment, but also and most notably by what he has given to this town: Pro Musica. As its founder and director, his world encompasses music lovers and performers from all over the world. Of course, he couldn’t make it the success it is today without his 40-member team of dedicated volunteers.

Founded in 2000, Pro Musica is the city’s mainstream provider of classical music whose season runs from October through to March.  A diverse rostrum of world-class musicians comes from all corners of the globe to perform in Pro Musica’s much anticipated season. What is so pleasing is the variety and number of classical music concerts – an ear-feast of 27 concerts that feature full orchestra, chamber music ensembles, string quartets, solo piano, guitar and more. 
I had the pleasure to attend one such concert: the Sinfonieta Potosina, conducted by the ebullient Antonio Cabrero. This lovely event marked Pro Musica’s much anticipated annual finale garden gala concert. The lush outdoor setting and scrumptious Mexican goodies served at intermission suited the joyous music in the program. What a treat!  
Mr.Pearl is a generous man as are his patrons (25%) of the audience). Dinners, cocktail parties occur after almost every concert along with another pleasurable post-concert experience: Meet and Greet the musicians: this is when casual banter blends with personal pizzazz with shoulder rubbing. What fun!                 
With the exception of the final concert of the season, Pro Musica performances take place within two iconic landmarks of acoustically sonorous and visual beauty: the Angela Peralta theatre and St. Paul’s Church. The upcoming season is sure to take advantage of these two marvellous venues. Opera, ballet, symphony and chamber music are slated along with a special appearance of the Russian State Ballet. (For further details on this and more, check out Pro Musica’s website: for further details).  
Pro Musica obviously needs patrons to ensure the coffer is constantly filled, not only for the concert season, but also for something so worthy and wonderful: it’s Pro Musica’s educational outreach program.             
“This is an ongoing endeavour we passionately believe in, said Mr Pearl. “ We now teach the basics of music through our Flagship program, Rhythm, Rhyme & Reason to 120 children in schools in the campo for 44 weeks every year, as well as in the San Miguel orphanages.”  To this end, a huge variety of instruments are offered – all authentic reproductions of pre-Hispanic instruments produced by local indigenous craftsmen; all made especially for Pro Musica right in San Miguel.

Los Ricos School

Pro Musica’s generosity is most remarkable. It not only brings music to so many through this outreach program, but it gives specialist private tuition to particularly gifted youngsters they discover along the way with no strings attached – other than those to the instruments each may play. 
Mr Pearl makes his plea for more funding and volunteers. “We are always looking for people who can contribute to what Pro Musica does.” His current wish is to bring on board those with knowledge and Internet skills and of course to spread the word about music in the copious program notes that come with each concert and via world of mouth.  
Pro Musica is one of San Miguel’s miracles. The openness and exhilaration that marks this musical organization is thrilling.

La Biblioteca and El Sindicato 

More artistic events happen in two totally different yet inviting spaces devoted to a full gamut of artistic encounters, activities and performances where subject matter is as broad as the collective imagination, and as thick as the wall of La Biblioteca - a fabulous stone building whose rooms are usually full of artists, lecturers and teachers.  
It’s hospitable space which not only includes the ever-popular Café Santa Ana and its theatre, but it offers a network of rooms for music, film, talks, body and mind-enriching workshops,  lessons of  all kinds. In fact, I had the pleasure to play the grand piano inside the Sala Quetzal. What a magnificent space. The vibrant mural that wraps along the enormous pace of this room is legendary. It visually chronicles a series of painted images whose indigenous subject matter is both mysterious and anecdotal.                    
 The door to this room is always open to the public when no activity is taking place. I love La Bibloteca and will be giving a series of workshops here, hoping to nourish the souls participating in my creativity sessions, and mine as well. La Bibliteca’s activities, overseen by the charming and incredibly hard-working Julieta Moreno, provide  quintessential, educational intellectual and artistic nourishment to San Miguel year-round. Young and old alike can’t keep away from it; nor can they the delicious muffins served to you by the sweet ‘waiters’ of Café Santa Ana. By the way, if you want to read San Miguel’s newspaper while sipping your coffee, the offices of Atención, just go up the outside stairs to pick up one.    
El Syndicato at No. 4 Recreo Street is run by actor and musician Jose Luis Mendoza Aubert. As director of its Espacio Cultural Alternativo, you may find him playing among a group of musicians casually getting together to play and sing the distinctly evocative 400-year old music from Veracruz called Son Jarocho. José Luis overseas so many performances and classes there which include tango and more dance styles along with all kinds of mixed music ensembles that incorporate art and more. It’s a happening place with spaces for teachers and students to take advantage of, and it’s right in the centre of town.   
It recently hosted an evening of Cuban musicians – all masters on their instruments, and all of international fame and acclaim: Gabriel Hernández (pianist), Gil Gutiérrez (guitarist), Kimani Carrazana (percussionist) and Rubén Olvera (bassist).  
Before leaving San Miguel, I attended another spectacle whose uniqueness was immeasurably riveting and pleasing at the same time.  Called  ‘A Ocho Manos’, this concert featured two great pianists Marta Garcia Renart and Fausto Castello performing Meunier, Satie, Debussy and Ravel to the dancers, Jessica Álvarez and Jessica Dávalos. who also did the choreography. Playful, sad, anecdotal and dramatic, each performance piece featured a riveting commentary on female image, sexuality, oppression and love. In one very clever work, the highly flexible dancer, Bruno Barón undulated and stretched his entire body in a series of movements that seemed to imitate a young child playing with his toys. He portrayed the playful spirit of innocence so well, it was hard to believe, eh was anything but a child full of innocence and wonder. Another innovative part of the afternoon event performance included the projection of these virtuoso pianists playing onto a side wall while the dancers performed. El Syndicato is a place for the emerging artist, the avant-garde and guarded. Anything goes here; there’s something for everyone’s taste. Choreographers, new compositions, sharing, exhibitions, readings and staging of plays are all part of this cultural centre whose door is always open. You may want to just drop in to relax upstairs on its cozy terrace, where you can read your favourite book, people watch from on high or ponder the possibilities to come your way – if indeed you are not the creator of them!  
For upcoming events, check out (

El Charco del Ingenio
This bastion of desert plants, a monumental rock canyon and pond fed by underground water is surely San Miguel’s most prized natural treasure. Designated a region of peace by the Dali Lama, the splendour of botanical growth comprises over 100 hectares of land (about 150 acres).  

The area is utterly breathtaking to wander through and a tranquil retreat from the clatter of San Miguel’s inner city life. Not easy to reach, but well worth the ride up the ascent up (take a taxi), El Charco del Ingenio nestles on high cocooned in peaceful botanical bliss.
Pick the path you wish to follow, as this intricate natural wonder is really a matrix of magnificent gardens and views down into the gorge and pond - all protected and maintained since 1990 with further purchase of land over the ensuing years for the purpose of preservation and regular care. The efforts of its director, Mario Hernández and his team visually demonstrate the determination of a highly skilled ensemble of community citizens and brilliantly innovative workers to keep El Charco del Ingenio growing freely since preservation of the natural reserve began in 1990. More land was purchased with this in mine in the ensuing years. Physically and spiritually, El Charco del Ingenio embodies ‘ingenio’ (ingeniousness) in every sense of the word.   
Cacti including 980 species of succulents,capture your focus at every turn within the area’s 535 species of spontaneous growing fauna whose diversity belongs to 85 botanical families. More than 156 species of birds and 110 butterflies thrive freely in the reserve.

There are over 14 segments to El Charco del Ingenio – not to mention the Plaza of the Four Winds, a ceremonial space and scenic overlook of Pre-Columbia symbols. It is an impressively large Mandela-like circle cut from natural rock to from a kind of mosaic with 4 images of earth, sky, water and animal forming at each direction.  The Holy Cross of El Charco del Ingenio also stands here, thereby uniting the dual religions.  
It’s all very harmonious as is every man-made structure that organically rises out of the natural growth as if it were there in the first place.  Such additions are exemplified by what Mr. Hernández has built there too. He has constructed a primitive type of little hut made from the area’s branches. Its form takes on the shape of a tent. Utterly organic in feel, it is a natural cozy cocoon - so peaceful to linger in.   
A large conservatory of Mexican plants includes cacti, succulents and an array of botanic families.
Water plants and native fish are there, as is the solar energy-fed agave and Opuntia gardens.

Optunia tomentosa
Nearby, a rescue garden rests peacefully – saved by the claws of bulldozers used for more building expansion. Mr. Hernández pointed out a single poignant fact as he pointed to a robust, gorgeous golden barrel cactus over 100 years old. He revealed that its needles take a lifetime of years to grow a mere millimetre in length.

How wonderful that it along with several other fragile fauna has been dug up and transplanted here thereby diverting these precious plants from machine-made destruction. 
A seventeenth-century mill – the oldest in the America’s is another highlight of El Charco del Ingenio. It sets the scene to view the nearby staggeringly awesome rock canyon across the way with its pond. Monumental boulders seem to want to crash into the pond, but they don’t. In fact, they serve as the seats for the audience attending concerts held in this very spot. What a superb setting for concerts with the sunset forming its own colourful light show!                                               
There is so much to see at El Charco del Ingenio, but one of my favourite spots was the presa (dam) waters with its artificial island lagoons where a bounteous variety of birds linger.

Every kind of view is afforded at this wonderful region. I just kept wanting to come back every day to discover more magical mysteries. So much to see!  Every miniscule moment collectively forms an immense botanic utopia invoking immeasurable euphoria.

* Photos taken by Wayne Colony, a resident of San Miguel de Allende since 2003 

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