Northern Lights Foreshadows Pan American Games

By Ed Tasca


orquestaThe opening of the 2011 Pan American Games is still several months away. But excitement is building for the event all over Mexico. I won’t be going because I always get lost driving around Guadalajara (I still can’t find Costco).

If, like me, you won’t be attending, there’s a spectacular opportunity to experience a live performance of the 2011 Pan American Games’ grand musical signature, its Festival Overture, right here in Ajijic, and months before its actual premiere. Scotiabank’s Northern Lights Music Festival, now in its 9th season, will be presenting the games’ overture at its February production, inviting ticket-holders to enjoy in advance what every attendee at the Pan American Games will experience at the games’ rousing outset, throughout its competitions and at its dramatic climax.

The overture is the creation of one of Canada’s most accomplished composers, Gary Kulesha, composer and advisor to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and professor of composition and performance at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. Gary was commissioned to create an upbeat, classical work to inspire personal-best athleticism from the participants and fire up fan-approval from the grandstands.

How does one accomplish this? “Make sure you’re too busy to do it,” Gary told me. (I’m paraphrasing, of course.) The impressive truth is that given his workload and busy schedule, he had only 30 days to complete the piece. “Time-pressure can summon the muse with great urgency and purpose and sometimes one can produce spectacular results.” Gary explained. “Like any work of art, for all the creative invention behind it, it is mostly a lot of tough, physical labor.”

A guy from Canada? Was he a fitting choice? A most fitting choice, as the work will attest. Gary’s most important influences he informed me have been Mexican composers, namely the much beloved Mexican violinist and composer Sylvestre Revueltas, and the legendary founder of the Mexican Symphony Orchestra, Carlos Chavez. If you feel Latin bravado in Gary’s use of the orchestral brass and his rousing machismo rhythms, you will understand why.

But there’s much more to this year’s Scotiabank Northern Lights Music Festival. In addition to Gary Kulesha’s Pan American Games Overture, the Festival will feature many past favorites and some pleasant surprises. Susan Hoeppner is back with her golden flute, the dynamic Alvin Tung returns with what has been acclaimed by the press and public alike as “A miracle in guitar playing.” There will also be some break-out performances from a new, young string quartet fresh from the Julliard School. And of course, the resounding opulence of sizzling jazz concerts will return in their full color.  Another of the Festival’s favorites, Drew Jurecka, will lead an entirely different band this year bringing a huge splash of innovation and originality.  Another highlight will be one of Canada´s brightest young vocal stars, Jill Barber.

All this wrapped up as always with the Festival’s Chamber Orchestra for opening and closing nights’ performances.  And finally, if these aren´t enough reasons to grab a seat, Mark Skazinetsky, a prominent guest on CBC Radio and in recital halls throughout Canada and a student of the great Glenn Gould, will conduct Beethoven´s 7th symphony. If you’re not yet a patron, the aristocratic thing to do is to become one this year. Who doesn’t love a royal?

If being aristocratic doesn’t move you, remember Plato said, “Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.” He meant the sublime sensations that music evokes can launch you off into the spiritual, the transcendent. (And you can’t argue with Plato, unless of course you’re Socrates). So sin a little, then raise yourself up on the wings of fine music.

Finally, what’s more down to earth is the mission of the Scotiabank Northern Lights Music Festival. It extends well beyond the auditorium seats. Through its donations and sponsors, the Festival supports education of young Mexican musicians. Students from all over Mexico will be housed and given musical lessons every day, supervised during their practice sessions by virtuoso musicians from the world over. At the end of the training and lessons, the Festival will be providing scholarships for its most outstanding students.

The Concert Schedule for the 2011 Season at the Auditorio (a stone’s throw east of Toritos) begins on February 19 and continues through February 21st , 23rd, 25th and 26th. Closing Night is on March 1. Tickets go on sale on February 1 at the Lake Chapala Society and at Charter Club Tours at Plaza Montaña. To find out more about these concerts please visit

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