Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, lots of people still tend to think of our little Albuquerque as a cultural wasteland. No art? No theater? No music? Are you kidding me?
At this point, if people aren't keyed into the creative gems scattered throughout our city, it's their own damn fault. Take Chamber Music Albuquerque (CMA), which is currently celebrating 65 distinguished years of bringing some of the best chamber music groups on the planet to our little, "uncultured" desert burg.
"It's an absolutely splendid organization," says Joanne Sheehy Hoover, the Albuquerque Journal's music critic from 1993 through 2003, who still occasionally writes reviews of CMA presentations for the paper. "It occupies a unique place in our cultural landscape in that it's one of the oldest chamber music organization's in the country, certainly the oldest in New Mexico. It's been quietly producing quality performances for decades, a record that, certainly in terms of quality and longevity, is unmatched."
CMA was founded in 1942 as the June Music Festival by Albert G. Simms and his wife Hanna McCormick Simms as a way to bring chamber music ensembles from around the country to Albuquerque. Mrs. Simms died in 1944. After her death, Albert continued sponsoring the yearly June Music Festival in her memory. Then, in the ’60s, three distinguished local musicians--Georges Miquelle, Josef Gingold and Ralph Berkowitz--took over the festival, creating a board of directors to govern its operation.
June Music Festivals have been produced at the Manzano Day School, the Albuquerque Little Theater and the UNM campus. They're currently presented at Albuquerque Academy's Simms Center, an acoustically exceptional performance space named after the founders of the festival.
In 1997, the organization changed its name to Chamber Music Albuquerque to better telegraph its intended purpose. CMA still presents the June Music Festival every year but, in 2003, it expanded its season to 12 concerts stretching from September through June. The following year, it hired its first-ever executive director, Joseph Franklin, an enthusiastic aficionado of new music who had just migrated to Albuquerque from Philadelphia.
Heidi Heard has chaired the CMA board for five years. "In recent years," she says, "we've worked hard to expand the season and provide a wider variety of music, while still focusing on presenting music of the highest quality."
This year, Heard says, they've set a $65,000 goal for CMA's endowment to give the organization the financial stability to continue to bring some of the finest musical performers in the world to Albuquerque. Part of CMA's new focus is on expanding the audience for chamber music in our city, especially among younger people.
"Some people say that's simply the way chamber music is," says Heard. “As you get older, you get interested in good wine, mutual funds and chamber music." The new executive director doesn't believe it has to be this way. During his tenure, Franklin has pushed a somewhat conservative board in a more progressive direction.
"With the current condition of classical music in 21st century America," says Franklin, "it ain't easy, but we're trying to pass down understanding to the next generation by balancing traditional chamber music with more contemporary work."
With that in mind, this year's June Music Festival features a roster of performances that provides something for just about everyone. “I would hope people will come try us out this June,” says Heard. “We have little surprises planned for every concert.”