Renowned violinist who calls Merida home invites public to ISQY concerts
The Yucatan Times conducted an exclusive interview with Christopher Collins, a world-renowned violin virtuoso who has a home here in Merida but also lives in the New York City area, travels around the world playing in all kinds of world class festivals, is the Premier Concertino of the Symphony Orchestra of the Yucatan, and is the leader of the International String Quartet of Yucatan. This is what Chris said to our reporter:
Since I plan someday to become Mexican, Yucatecan and Meridano, I guess now I have a brand new name to go along with it. I´ll be obtaining permanent residence status soon and eventually hope to have dual citizenship.
Since I love Merida and started to spend more time here, I decided to buy and renovate a wonderful old colonial house in centro that used to be a car parts and repair shop 18 years ago. It took a lot of work to turn it into what it is today, but it was worth it and it feels like my first not my second home.
Thank you, now, this front room with the double glazed windows for quiet, is the music room, it´s where the quartet rehearses, and also I teach here.
I wasn’t always Concertino of the Sinfonica. At first I played as soloist with the Orchestra each year, and taught some of the violinists. Then, about 10 years ago, the concertino at the time, a Colombian violinist, decided to leave suddenly as his wife couldn’t take the heat!
TYT: I see you have a piano here, do you play other instruments besides the violin?Yes, I love to play the piano but not professionally. When I come home late from playing, instead of watching TV, I play the piano, it helps me to relax. Luckily the walls of my house are thick enough, so no one complains.TYT: What can you tell us about the International string quartet of Yucatan?
So much of the world´s greatest music has been written for the string quartet. It sort of compares in literature to the works of Shakespeare, Dante, or Cervantes. They contain so much truth, that they never grow old. It´s a gift. So, throughout my life, I’ve always had string quartets, sometimes even more than one quartet at a time. It´s always challenging, and one lifetime isn´t nearly enough time to do it all justice. When I chose my instrument, I had no idea that this was going to become my life… there was this good family friend that I knew could teach me, so from the age of six, it´s taken me on this amazing trip. I’ve never had to do another kind of job. I went to conservatories, I had a Fulbright to Europe, and all my life, I’ve loved all kinds of music, symphonic, opera, jazz (I used to play a lot with Sarah Vaughn) and string quartets.
We started the ISQY 6 years ago, because the opportunity came up to start a monthly series at Hacienda Xcanatún. It was a big success pretty much from the beginning, but nowadays the Chapel there is too small for the growing audience we have!!! We plan to be more of a part of the City at large, and tour Mexico, playing wherever we can, as often as we can.
Now we have a bigger venue located on the south side of Mérida. As soon as people come there, we think they will love it! It´s not as well known as Xcanatún, but in a short time it will be. It’s just as beautiful and special, it has the old trees and beautiful buildings too, and it´s called Hacienda Santa Cruz Palomeque.
It is managed by wonderful people involved in environmental issues. We will be performing in their “Gran Sala”, a seventeenth century building, beautifully maintained, and they are generously providing us with everything we need. The stage, rug and chairs are due this week in fact.
The hacienda also has an excellent restaurant. It features a woman chef from Mexico City, who has won a lot of prizes, served several political personages including Obama They specialize in Yucatecan food, but it is a very high-end gourmet type of place, so it really is a treat, I´m sure people is going to love it.
I really feel very excited about this new phase for the quartet. There are also plans to do some recordings, and we are going to have a strong presence on the internet.
We played two concerts recently at the Olimpo here in downtown Mérida, and we had the biggest crowd we’ve ever had, I think it’s because we are now on the web. We never used to be. We were known as the guys who play each month at “Xcanatun”, but now we’re going worldwide, and we want to play in the many chamber music festivals around Mexico, and farther, representing the Yucatan.
I´m told that Mexicans tend to think of the Yucatán as so far away, a kind of “backwater”, but hopefully when they hear our quartet, they´ll realize that Merida is on the cutting edge of the art world, musically and culturally, with more galleries and music than any other Mexican city it´s size. We also will be publicizing the Symphony since we are a branch of the Symphony´s outreach. Our Symphony audience knows us already, we’re family, and I’m sure it will be fun for them to hear us as a quartet.
We just recently announced our dates for the whole year, our first concert is going to be October 20th, most of our concerts are going to be Thursday nights.
TYT: Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners will be good for the hacienda’s restaurant of course
We are going to do a spectacular dinner concert for Christmas, and then, one of the concerts we’re playing happens to be on Thanksgiving Day which of course is a special day for Americans, so, if they want to have a special turkey dinner featuring the music of the quartet, they should come to Hacienda Santa Cruz.
It´s a 20 minute drive from centro, just off the Periferico, you just take exit number two and you go straight ahead for two or three minutes and that’s it!
Finally, last thing I can tell you about Hacienda Santa Cruz is that it was built in 1640, and my violin was made in 1680, so it’s even older than my violin! You can experience them both on October 20th and throughout the year!
Interview by Alejandro Azcárate for TYT