By EMELIA HITCHNER
Some of the world’s finest musicians and composers will be in St. Augustine for two back-to-back weekends performing the timeless classics of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and more.
The best part? The performances are held in historic St. Augustine’s Cathedral Basilica free of charge.
“There aren’t many chances to hear the level and the quality of music that is being presented unless you go to a major city where you’d have to pay a lot of money to see something of this caliber,” said Jorge Peña, the artistic director of the St. Augustine Music Festival.
When Peña first performed in the Cathedral several years ago, he had a revelation.
Despite its historic past, the city of St. Augustine lacked a classical music presence.
So, on a shoestring budget, Peña and supporters from the community drafted the first St. Augustine Music Festival.
Ten years later, Peña said the festival has become a popular annual event.
“It’s grown tremendously,” he said. “And it’s grown the level of musicians we are able to attract as well. The festival has a really good reputation in the music world.”
Choosing those performers is no easy task, and Peña said the planning process is intricate.
“I spend a lot of time choosing who I think will be the best person for each piece,” Peña said. “I obsess over having a good program that’s not just randomly thrown together. It has to go with our mission to entertain, educate and elevate.”
This year features several internationally renowned musicians, as well as symphonies from prestigious national universities.
According to David Brezing, chairman of the board for the festival, the Cathedral amplifies the classical musical experience for first-timers.
“The venue itself is spectacular architecturally and acoustically, so it makes for a truly memorable experience,” Brezing said. “I have talked to people at the concerts who said they didn’t even know if they would like classical music when they wandered in, and then were smitten and became regulars.”
The festival takes place June 16-18 and June 23-25, and all of the concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. The event is free and tickets aren’t required, but donations are more than welcome.
Peña said support from a generous community continues to bring the festival to life each year.
“From the board of directors to the donations of people who attend, this festival would cease to exist if it had no interest,” Peña said. “But we’ve been very lucky. We put our work into the music and when people think it’s worth keeping, they help us out.”