by Peter Pabisch
This year marks the 400th Anniversary of Santa Fe, established in 1610 as capital of “New Spain” under the rule of the Habsburg Emperor Philip III, grandson of the famous Austrian Emperor Charles V. During his reign the Habsburg Empire comprised the colonies of the Spanish Crown and territories which reached from Central Europe to the Americas and were described as the Empire upon which the sun never sets.
The significant rise of the Santa Fe Opera and the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, among the most distinguished cultural institutions of the Southwest, can be attributed to the contributions of two Austrian artists who fled Austria during the Nazi regime: Kurt Frederick, a remarkable conductor and founder of the nationally and internationally successful Albuquerque Youth Symphony Orchestra. As conductor of the University of New Mexico Orchestra, Frederick offered the American premieres of several works by Ernst Krenek, Anton Webern and Arnold Schoenberg.
His colleague, pianist George Robert, formerly Georg Katz, was also renowned in Vienna’s Konzerthaus where at age of fifteen he was already billed as a ‘Wunderkind’ and left an indelible mark. As pianist with the “Seraphim Trio,” he regularly played the entire piano repertoire including such well known compositions as Schubert’s “Trout Quintet” or as an accompanist to “Die Winterreise.”
They joined a gifted group of local musicians and helped to lay the foundation of the development for the highly regarded New Mexico Symphony Orchestra that is currently guided by Artistic Director Guillermo Figueroa, the talented Latin American conductor and violinist.
Figueroa holds an annual Mozart festival in Albuquerque and interprets Beethoven’s symphonies with a unique touch. In addition, there is hardly an Austrian composer he has not introduced to an enthusiastic audience of educated, critical and sophisticated connoisseurs of music living in New Mexico.
As a member of the private Albuquerque Chamber Soloists, sponsored by the Felberg family, he has joined with other remarkable musicians this spring to give a concert of Beethoven’s Spring Sonata in F major, Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor and Paul Schoenfield’s modern “Café Music” that includes many Viennese features.
This year’s season of the Santa Fe Opera begins with Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” followed by Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly,” Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann,” Benjamin Britten’s “Albert Herring” – and, as a world premiere, Lewis Spratlan’s “Life is a Dream.” The entire series, incorporating Mozart, includes the premier of a work based upon Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s play, “La vida es sueño,” which in turn reminds one of Grillparzer’s “Der Traum ein Leben.” Once again the Austrian-Spanish-Latin American connection is present in the celebration of Santa Fe’s four hundred-year event.
For Austrians far away from home, as well as for music devotees everywhere, New Mexico offers a highly gratifying experience, as it does every year.