A $200,000 grant from a foundation in Wisconsin will bankroll youth participation this August in an international choral festival created by Albany Pro Musica, helping high school students from around the country and the world join classes and performances in Ontario and the Capital Region.
The money, a gift from Bader Philanthropies, Inc., in Milwaukee, will cover tuition, room, board and ground travel among festival sites for all 150 students who enroll, said APM artistic director José Daniel Flores-Caraballo. Participating students will only pay for transportation to and from the festival, which includes master classes, workshops and performances crossing continents and musical eras.
“We wanted to create a festival that would be unique,” Flores-Caraballo said, “and I think we have done just that . . . . This festival’s going to bring international attention.”
The inaugural Pro Musica International Choral Festival will take place at partner institutions from Aug. 8-16 — starting out at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, for classes and a concert, then moving on to Skidmore College for more classes and the University at Albany for a concert. It will culminate with a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at SPAC on Aug. 15, with 75 of the festival students joining 125 APM singers and the Philadelphia Orchestra led by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Students enrolled in grades 9-12 during the 2019-2020 school year are eligible; the deadline is Saturday, Feb. 29. (For more information, see promusicafestival.org.) Already, applications have arrived from 15 states plus Europe, Canada, the Caribbean and Central America, Flores-Caraballo said.
APM previously received a personal donation of $200,000 from Isabel Bader to aid initial planning of the festival, Flores-Caraballo said. The group’s association with her began with the late Karen Hitchcock, a former APM board chair, UAlbany president and principal for Queen’s University — which built its performing arts center with funding from Bader and her late husband, Alfred, and named the space after them.
“She is a very generous, very kind person, with a huge heart for education and music,” the conductor said.
Asked why her foundation chose to support a choral ensemble and festival far removed from Milwaukee, Bader replied: “First of all, why not? We’re very interested in music, we’re very interested in education of all kinds – beginning, really, almost in the womb – and Karen was particularly devoted to this choir and the things that they were offering.”
Beyond that, she said, “It’s a good thing for people to meet each other, to work together, to learn to be happy together,” Bader said. “Especially in 2020.”
Among the guest artists slated to participate are Los Angeles Master Chorale director Grant Gershon (who’ll be involved at the Canadian end) and composer-director Bradley Ellingboe (who’ll participate Stateside). Festival staff includes faculty from Harvard and Juilliard. Two adult ensembles, the Camerata Coral from Puerto Rico and the Kingston Chamber Choir from Ontario, will also take part.
Planned programming includes three world premieres — by Ellingboe, Canadian composer Kathleen Allan and APM’s honorary resident composer, Steve Murray. “Musically, it’s very rich, what we are offering,” Flores-Caraballo said.
Ultimately, he hopes students will be inspired by the festival – either to pursue music as a career or to keep it in their lives as they move forward. He also hopes the festival’s young participants “will get a world-class performing experience . . . . When you challenge students, even elementary-level students, to perform at the highest-performing level possible, they surprise you,” he said. “They deliver. They deliver with great passion, because you show that you believe in them. And they demonstrate to you that you were right.”