FEMUSC - Santa Catarina Music Festival, is a yearly, two-week long event held in the picturesque city of Jaraguá do Sul in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. Jaraguá do Sul is an industrial town of 150,000 inhabitants, home to some of Brazil's most successful companies, possessing an European standard of living ranking among the most livable cities in Brazil.
FEMUSC's general headquarters is located at the state-of-the-art facilities of the SCAR Cultural Center (2003), home of the Cultural and Artistic Society of Jaraguá do Sul, a 50-year-old institution dedicated to the cultural development of the city and which hosts over 350 performances a year as well as a Philharmonic Orchestra and a school for music, ballet and theater. In addition to these numbers, SCAR hosts an additional 9 daily concerts series during FEMUSC, totaling 118 performances. When added to the other, socially-oriented performances in universities, churches, community centers, hospitals, penitentiaries and nearby cities, FEMUSC presents over 200 events open to the public during each two-week season, serving over 130,000 audience members - half of those through the online streaming of all major concerts.
Since 2006, in 15 uninterrupted years of service, FEMUSC has welcomed over 10,000 student and professional participants from well over 40 countries. The discrepancy in prior experience between participants describes the inequality in music studies in its primary field of service: Latin America. FEMUSC regularly receives participants from all countries in South America and most of Central America, United States, Canada, Cuba as well as Australia, South Corea and Europe. In order to better serve this wide range of experiences and expectations, FEMUSC is divided into several "Programs" - actual mini-festivals in themselves - containing distinct curriculums, focus and pre-requisites for admissions.
Photo: Jerusalem Quartet violist Ori Kam working with a FEMUSC student.
The Advanced Program was custom-made with the assistance of young musicians in their final steps towards a professional career. In this Program they find an intense curriculum of artistic, technical and intelectual improvement. Admittance is by taped audition and recommendation of the FEMUSC faculty. Within this curriculum are two symphony orchestras presenting top-level repertory such as Rite of Spring and Shostakovich Symphonies, an opera orchestra, a ballet orchestra, "Special Projects" designed for deep studies in particular areas such as string quartets and a conductor-less orchestra, and instrumental instruction with some of the world's top pedagogues. Dozens of students from the Advanced Program have been granted scholarships for study abroad, with some achieving success at the highest levels of the profession. Argentinian violinist Jeremias Velazquez won a position with the Pittsburgh Symphony before moving on to the Principal Second Violin chair with the Met Orchestra, while Peruvian violinist Eduardo Rios, considered one of the greatest violin talents of his generation, has recently won a Concertmaster position with the Seattle Symphony.
FEMUSC also boasts an "Intermediate Program" created so as to enhance the artistic and instrumental development of young musicians who otherwise would not be able to receive the exposure to this level of teaching due to the consequences of social inequality in their countries of origin, be that due to the distance which separates them from major cities and points of teaching, or for the simple unavailability of teachers for their instrument in their region. At FEMUSC these young talents have classes side-by-side with their colleagues in the Advanced Program, learning from the same teachers and by observing their colleagues perform. The Intermediate Program curriculum emphasizes observation and personal growth. For many years the admittance of students - some of them learned to play by watching YouTube videos - was done exclusively on a first-come-first-served basis, without evaluation of any detail of their application, not even their taped audition. Nowadays a selection process similar to the Advanced Program is utilized. As noted by FEMUSC faculty, students in the Intermediate Program produce the highest rate of improvement and knowledge absorption, and many return years later by successfully auditioning for the competitive Advanced Program.
Photo: The Ricardo Feldens Academic Orchestra, named after a long-time local pedagogue and enthusiast of music, is formed by members of the Intermediate Program and is dedicated to the performance of major orchestral works under the direction of the 6 fellows of the FEMUSC Orchestral Conducting Program, the most sought-after course at FEMUSC, with more than 9 candidates auditioning for each spot, all of them submitting live performances with orchestra. Instruction is provided by Maestro Gregory Carreño (center, purple shirt), one of the founders of Venezuela's "El Sistema" and one of its main conductors.
The Opera Program at FEMUSC was designed to bring real stage experience to aspiring young singers. However, the success of the Opera Program's performances and direction has resulted in the participation of many professional singers as well, who seek further exposure and work with top masters. Currently, the Musical Direction of the Opera Program is in the hands of the Brazilian Maestro André dos Santos, with general and Stage Direction by Harry Silverstein. The FEMUSC Opera Program is intense and ambitious. Entire three-hour operas are prepared and staged with two performances and two casts within two weeks of everyone's arrivals. This includes 200 hours of rehearsals, a dedicated orchestra and the lure of being stars in the festival's most anticipated performances. Experience and top-level expectations are also provided by the faculty joining these performances, including Pittsburgh Opera concertmaster Charles Stegeman and Met Opera Assistant Principal Violist Craig Mumm.
Photo: Bizet's Carmen at FEMUSC, under the Music Direction of Catherine Larsen-McGuire and Stage Direction of Gino Quilico.
Video: The phenomenal young Brazilian soprano Deborah Burgarelli sings "Senza Mamma, o Bimbo, tu sei morto" from Puccini's Suor Angelica, with André dos Santos conducting the FEMUSC Opera Orchestra and Stage Direction by Harry Silverstein.
The plight of young professional musicians in Latin America is also of concern for Alex Klein at FEMUSC. The Professional Program (ProMusc) seeks to promote continued learning, specialization and recycling for musicians who find themselves surviving among the music world's worst work conditions anywhere, with over-politicization of employment, weak or non-existent unions, and undignified salaries. At FEMUSC they participate in lectures, debates, chamber music opportunities next to faculty members and an invitation to change their work environment for the better.
Photo: violinist Miriam Fried delivers a powerful and unforgettable performances of Beethoven's Violin Concerto with the FEMUSC Faculty Orchestra, composed of faculty and members of the ProMusc Program, led by Alex Klein.
Photo: Nigel Downing, horn, of the Zurich Opera Orchestra, performing the Dohnanyi Sextet next to the Argentinian clarinetist Juan Pablo Vazquez, a member of ProMusc.
Photo: the legendary Boston Symphony Principal Trumpet Charles Schlueter discusses an orchestral excerpt with a FEMUSC professional participant.
One of the fears and potential drawbacks of a major music festival is the dearth of musical activities giving it continuation and presence in it's host city once the excitement of the event leaves town. Fortunately, the city of Jaraguá do Sul is supported by the SCAR Association and many other local music schools. In order to bridge the gap between FEMUSC and local activities held during the year we saw the creation of "Femusckinho" (Little FEMUSC) serving kids aged 6 to 12, and once these kids surpassed that age the obvious complement of FEMUSC Jovem (FEMUSC Youth) came into existence as well, now serving adolescents from 12 to 17. The curriculum of these Programs is open strictly to the community of Jaraguá do Sul and surroundings, working as a "day camp" and served by a specialized faculty and assistants.
Over 1000 kids have attended these programs since their inception, who invariably seek SCAR and other music schools for continuing studies after FEMUSC ends. This has resulted in a welcome wave of development in the local community, feeding the Jaraguá do Sul Philharmonic (now under the Music Direction of FEMUSC faculty conductor André dos Santos) and spawning greater public interest in both FEMUSC and SCAR.
Photo: students at Little FEMUSC learn the basics of string instruments and perform their first "orchestra concert" within two weeks. The experience leads many to seek music lessons after the festival season ends.
In an ironic twist of the cost-benefit of top musicianship, one of the most neglected music formations in Latin America is the String Quartet. In order to bridge this gap FEMUSC created the String Quartet Program, led by the Arianna String Quartet. The success of the program led to the multiplication of new young quartets from Latin America. During the latest admissions cycle 20 young quartets competed for the 6 available spots at FEMUSC 2020.
Photo: Arianna String Quartet violist Joanna Mendoza joins the Café Quarteto in performance at FEMUSC.
With over 200 performances with 700 works, 500 students and 80 faculty members and assistants, the challenge of administering FEMUSC and its rehearsals, physical spaces, transportation, room&board could be daunting. Or not necessarily so. FEMUSC invested in Information Technologies so that its entire administration is organized through custom-made computer programs which then print an individual schedule to each one of its hundreds of participants, faculty or students alike. As such, by 9am on the first day of the event all hallways are empty and every musician knows exactly where to be, doing what, with whom, and why. Students criss-cross these hallways all day long moving from one orchestra to another in their 15 separate formations and from the approximate 150 chamber music groups formed during the festival. The public keeps track of performances through the FEMUSC website, www.femusc.com.br where programming is directly tied to the IT programs organizing the musicians' schedules.
Empowerment, Participative Administration, and Social Service
At FEMUSC, those who are part of the consequences of a decision are welcome and invited to voice an opinion about it prior to that decision being final. Young musicians from around the world, 10,000-strong, participate in debates and conversations on social media, vote in suggestions for orchestral repertory, and are instrumental in the choice of new faculty hires. Opera titles are discussed with young singers as much as with the faculty and directors who will bring the project to fruition, and the public is equally involved in access to administration, Board of Directors of the FEMUSC Institute, students, faculty and Artistic Director Alex Klein. The result is a win-win-win situation where every sector is rewarded by a festival which serves their interests without the demotion or disregard of anyone.
The Musical Zoo is....a zoo! Orchestral Instruments are disposed around the audience and stage so children - of all ages - can follow the sound of their favorite "animal" and in any cases try them out with the assistance of FEMUSC students as they learn the value of service to their community through their musical talents.
Photo: as a curricular requirement, all participants of the FEMUSC Sinfonietta must participate in instrument demonstrations during the Musical Zoo. The argument is the instruction of "audience building" and sharing skills which are fundamental to young players.
The idea of "social service" does require commitment and effort, but not necessarily a deviation of each young musician's musical objectives, capabilities and identity. The Concert of the Nations opens the Great Performances Series at each FEMUSC. The concert is entirely organized by students from selected countries of origin (defined on a first-come-first-served basis from the usual 20-22 countries represented at each festival). Students decide on attire, repertory, rehearsals, organize arrangements and parts distribution, leadership, videos, photos and colors representing their country of origin. Here we see the Colombians dressed in white, playing, singing and dancing their formidable musical heritage in front of a video showcasing the beauty of their country, and the Mexicans celebrating with a full-house audience the brilliance of their musical brand.
Photo: Performance of Mahler's Second Symphony, "Resurrection", with soloist Mezzo-Soprano (and FEMUSC faculty member) Ana Hasler next to participant - and herself a professional singer - Annelise Cavalcanti. This work was voted into the FEMUSC programming by the students themselves. Alex Klein is conducting.
The benefits of the musical arts do not, and cannot remain solely at the concert hall. The power of music as an instrument of social change is part of the curriculum of each FEMUSC participant. Each year dozens of socially-oriented concerts are performed by FEMUSC students and faculty, at churches and hospital lobbies (photos) as well as shopping centers, nursing homes and even the local low-security penitentiary.
Community service is an idea best taught by example. The FEMUSC Faculty Orchestra, here led by renowned Philharmonia Orchestra oboist Gordon Hunt, is rehearsing Brahms's Serenade n. 2, providing an opportunity to FEMUSC students to enjoy music making next to their teachers under the ambiance and rehearsal rhythm common in the international orchestras they represent.
Service and top musical experience are not mutually exclusive. The FEMUSC Sinfonietta is dedicated to serving the Family Concerts Series. Led by Norberto Garcia, concertmaster of the Argentine National Symphony, the Sinfonietta performs major orchestral works such as Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra and Mahler Symphonies, whole or in excerpts, as well as lighter fares in a quest to inspire family audiences. through an immersion in a galactical story told continually from one FEMUSC to another: the OSNI (Unidentified Symphony Orchestra) roams the galaxy in search of the meaning of music, encountering all sorts of trouble along the way. Here on this photo astronaut-conductor Garcia is assisted by the bassoon faculty and University of Iowa Professor Benjamin Coelho as they discuss a musical subject with "Mozart". Most importantly are the faces and participation of the young musicians in the back as they too are enthralled by what they see and experience together with the audience of 1000 people in front of them, enjoying the power of music and how it transforms society.
The FEMUSC experience invites young musicians to seek something larger than themselves, and bigger than anyone's inner ambitions in a music career. The FEMUSC experience builds on the powerful idea that a symphony orchestra is much more than the sum of its musicians.
In 2020 FEMUSC celebrated 15 years of success. Parallel to this, at the next town over, Joinville, the Bolshoi Ballet School of Brazil, the only foreign-based ballet school of the famous Russian ballet powerhouse, was celebrating it's own 20 years of existence. Both organizations joined forces for a presentation of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, with the newly created FEMUSC Ballet Orchestra led by Alex Klein.