Most often our impressions of other countries are informed by images in the media or what our built environment thinks of them. Musical Bridges Around The World aims to introduce art lovers to new points on the globe via the vibrations of that place’s musical talent.

The nonprofit will host eight unique musical acts from all over the world during its International Music Festival, Feb. 1226. All concerts are free and open to the public, but special membership and VIP experiences can be purchased here.

“We want to put beautiful, creative faces on the cultures from all over the world,” said Musical Bridges Executive Director Anya Grokhovski, who is a native of Russia. “When we began bringing individuals from Syria, India, Palestine, I became quite anxious and nervous myself – what do we talk about without offending each other?”

People often don’t know what to expect from a culture they aren’t familiar with.

“The more we worked with these musicians, the more we understood that people are all the same,” Grokhovski said, who was born and raised in Russia. “It’s what we want to help impart through our mission – which even changed me.”

Each year more than 80,000 individuals across San Antonio have the opportunity to connect with the mission of Musical Bridges and experience that same transformation themselves.

“We always enjoy full houses at our concerts, and I think our programming speaks for itself,” Grokhovski said of the often Grammy-nominated artists who take the stage during the festival weeks. “It offers something for any taste – jazz, folk, classical, world – all on a high artistic level.”

In the past years the festival has attracted sopranos from the Ukraine, the world’s top accordionists, flamenco troupes, and some of the finest raga music India has to offer.  This year will be no different, with a visual artist from Armenia, a child prodigy from Indonesia, an accordionist from Spain, and a cellist from Canada, to name only a few.

The JP Jofre Tango Band. Photo courtesy of MBAW
The JP Jofre Tango Band. Photo courtesy of MBAW Credit: Courtesy / Musical Bridges Around The World

“The festival will be eight concerts in total, at five large venues, primarily the (Tobin’s) HEB Performance Hall and the Empire Theatre,” Grokhovski said, adding that many of the same artists will also perform for the organization’s Kids To Concerts program at local schools. “Students get to learn about the world through these musicians, maybe we’ve planted a spark in them by the end of it all.”

The concerts are free and open to the public, so it’s best to arrive early. Here is a sneak peek at the artists performing at this year’s festival:

The Jones Family Singers and Soul Fruit Gospel: Sunday, Feb. 12 at the Empire Theatre

The Jones Family Singers are made up (in part) of five sisters, two brothers, and their father, and hail from the tiny Texas town of Markham. Their stewardship of a long musical tradition has led to performances at the Lincoln Center, the Monterey Jazz Festival, and even a tour of Russia.

A more modern approach, Soul Fruit Gospel brings an R&B and Soul tinge to the gospel tradition – imagine if D’Angelo, Ginuwine, and Brandy teamed up in the name of the Lord. This trio keeps the grooves flowing gently as they bring multiple generations together through contemporary exploration of faith and music.

Victor Prieto: Tuesday, Feb. 14 at the Southwest School of Art

Hailing from Spain, accordionist Victor Prieto combines elements of Galician-Celtic music, New York City jazz, and multi-tonal singing. Trained at Berklee College of Music, Prieto recorded with Yo-Yo Ma, received a Grammy Award, and still found time to teach master classes all across Europe.

“It’s very romantic jazz, and there will be a jazz singer in a red dress,” Grokhovski said, citing the request from the Musical Bridges team to make the experience on Valentine’s Day even more special.

Zoe Keating: Thursday, Feb. 16 at the Southwest School of Art Chapel
Zoe Keating and her powerful cello. Courtesy photo of MBAW
Zoe Keating and her powerful cello. Courtesy photo of MBAW Credit: Courtesy / Musical Bridges Around The World

A one-woman orchestra, cellist Zoe Keating has has torn the covers off the classical musician’s solo act to unveil an approach that merges 21st century technology with an age-old art form. According to Grokhovski, Keating records layers of her cello on top of one another, thus displaying an intricacy of soundscape. Now based in San Francisco, Keating will bring her dynamic approach to the divine halls of the Southwest School of Art Chapel.

Joey Alexander Trio: Saturday, Feb. 18 at the Empire Theatre

Inspired by his performance for the great Herbie Hancock in his native Indonesia at the age of 8, pianist Joey Alexander began his remarkable ascent into the record books of jazz. At 13, he has already graced the stages of the Newport Jazz Festival, visited nearly every continent, and performed with Wynton Marsalis at the heralded Lincoln Center.

“I was inspired by the story on 60 Minutes, shortly after discovering him,” Grokhovski said.

Lost Spring:” Thursday, Feb. 23 at the Tobin’s Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater

Kevork Mourad, a visual artist from Armenia, will present his performance “Lost Spring” in a multimedia offering.

“How do you explain genocide to a child?” Grokhovski asked, touching on the central question at the heart of the performance, which captures a harrowing moment in Armenia’s history. “A live orchestra will be incorporated, along with dancing, singing and live drawings projected on the back screen.”

Mozart Extravaganza: Friday, Feb. 24 at the Empire Theatre

In conjunction the Mozart Festival, the Houston Grand Opera Studio will give their most elaborate bow to some of Mozart’s greatest hits.

“Everyone will be in costumes, making it look like a miniature show,” Grokhovski said of the performance.

JP Jofre Tango Band: Saturday, Feb. 25 at the Empire Theatre

Argentine Bandoneon player JP Jofre and his band will showcase their intricate arrangements in a performance that will likely have attendees dancing tango in the aisles. Jofre has performed alongside greats such as Paquito d’Rivera and with Philharmonics across the nation.

“He is a favorite in SA,” Grokhovski said. “It’s really a classical chamber music ensemble, and it will feature dancers on stage.”

Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Photo courtesy of MBAW
Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Photo courtesy of MBAW Credit: Courtesy / Musical Bridges Around The World
Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Sunday, Feb. 26 at the Tobin’s HEB Performance Hall

During “A Tribute to Charlie Haden,” Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and his quartet will pay homage to the jazz great, who helped give Rubalcaba his American start in the early ’90s. Steeped in the piano jazz tradition of Monk, Powell, and Peterson and the influence of Bird and Diz, Rubalcaba will display his skills on the ebonies and ivories to conclude the festival’s whirlwind world tour.

“He is truly one of the most renowned,” Grokhovski said. “We are excited to conclude with his performance at the Tobin.”

Adam Tutor is a Trinity University graduate, a saxophonist who performs with local bands Soulzzafying, Odie & the Digs, and Volcan, and a freelance music contributor to the Rivard Report.