For 25 years since its founding, Musical Bridges Around the World has embodied the notion that music is a universal language, able to transcend physical borders, cultural misperceptions and political enmity to bring people together.
In that spirit, the arts nonprofit will celebrate UNITYFest from Feb. 2-5 at venues around San Antonio with a series of free concerts in various musical styles. The name is a rebranding of the group’s annual International Music Festival, the result of a conversation between Musical Bridges co-founder Anya Grohkovsky and First Lady of San Antonio Erika Prosper.
“We were talking about Musical Bridges and the impact it’s had throughout the years in uniting people through music,” Prosper said. The new name speaks to what the festival does rather than simply describing what it is, she said.
Grokhovsky said that, while every Musical Bridges season brings international chamber music performers to San Antonio, the festival allows the freedom to explore different genres such as folk music and jazz.
Over four days, the festival will bring people together to celebrate a mix of cultures, she said.
UNITYfest opens Feb. 2 with a 25th anniversary Silver Jubilee concert at the new Buena Vista Theater downtown. Grokhovsky called the event “a sort of family concert, celebrating the founders” of Musical Bridges, including herself on piano, her former spouse Valeri Grokhovski, also a pianist, her violinist brother Mark Cheikhet and his 11-year-old daughter Eleanor, a piano student of Grokhovsky who will perform a Mozart sonata.
The San Antonio chamber music ensemble Agarita will join the jubilee, anchored on piano by Daniel Anastasio, another former student of Grokhovsky who two decades ago took part in Musical Bridges’ “child prodigy” concerts. And lastly, Veronica Williams will sing. Williams is now better known as a soprano, but also once studied piano with Grokhovsky.
The Buena Vista Theater features a large digital screen that will allow Musical Bridges to show “family pictures” from events of the past two and a half decades, she said.
The Bill Charlap Trio will perform Feb. 3 at the Carver Community Cultural Center’s Jo Long Theatre. Regulars of New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Village Vanguard, the trio will play classic jazz from the American songbook, including music by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Dave Brubeck and Kenny Burrell.
The Coates Chapel on UTSA’s Southwest School of Art campus will host the Russian-French piano duo Ludmila Berlinskaya and Arthur Ancelle for a “Tea for Two” concert Feb. 4. The duo will perform four-hand piano arrangements by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, among their repertoire.
On Feb. 5 in the H-E-B Performance Hall of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, Gurwitz 2020 International Piano Competition silver medalist Yedam Kim will return to perform with the Gwangju Symphony Orchestra directed by Seokwon Hong. The “East Meets West” concert will celebrate the sister city relationship between San Antonio and Gwangju, South Korea.
There could not be a better setting for UNITYFest than San Antonio, Prosper said. The city “truly embraces its role as a constellation city here in the United States that has remained consistent in its belief of unifying San Antonians” of all cultural backgrounds.
UNITYFest will wrap up Sunday evening in the grand lobby of the St. Anthony Hotel with the Silver Soirée, a ticketed awards ceremony honoring friends and supporters of Musical Bridges. Tickets are $100 each.
All other UNITYFest events are free with registration, available through the Musical Bridges website.