The Bronx Arts Ensemble is headed on a musical journey to Mexico this year, and they’re taking the borough with them.
The chamber music group kicks off its 2018-19 season with a celebration of woodwind music from Mexico and Russia on Oct. 21. As the season progresses, the ensemble plans to tackle other aspects of Mexican music that include pop and songs from Veracruz, Mexico’s countryside.
“One of our goals was to put on music from Mexico, but not necessarily what people think of as stereotypical Latin music, but a really wide variety of Mexican music,” said Becky Fradkin, the ensemble’s music programs manager.
Dedicating part of a season to exploring music in other countries is nothing new for the ensemble. Last season, for example, was all about showcasing Cuban music.
“We’re a bit focused on different regions of the Americas because so many people in the Bronx have a heritage in different parts of the Americas,” ensemble executive director David Nussenbaum said.
With growing tensions between the United States and Mexico, Nussenbaum also thought it was a chance to educate others about culture south of the border.
“We’re certainly about breaking down walls between the United States and Mexico,” he said.
Fradkin feels the same way.
“We feel like it’s also part of our mission to display some of the beauty of Mexican culture as well as an antidote to some of that negativity,” she said.
Aside from the ensemble’s current Mexican focus, its ongoing mission to make music and arts accessible to all borough residents continues as Bronxites like Elio Villafranca and Mary Ann McSweeney take the stage at its January concert.
“We want to support artists that come and live in the Bronx,” Nusssenbaum said. “I think we want to show our audience — some of who are young people — that people from the Bronx can make it in the New York music world.”
The Bronx Arts Ensemble also plans to expand The Bill Scribner Young Artist Competition — which allows music students between 14 and 20 to audition for a chance to win $500 and perform with the group — and include a junior level for elementary and middle school students.
“We want to give them experience performing so that they can — whether or not they go on to have a performance career — have that experience performing at a real concert for a real audience,” Fradkin said.
However, obtaining the prize isn’t everything.
“It’s not just about winning the competition,” she said, “but how the competition might actually help that student continue to get the support they need to keep going.”
Looking ahead to the concert season, the ensemble has started partnerships with Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Belmont and the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance in Westchester Square, in order to expose more communities to a diverse range of music.
“It’s important to us that we have concerts in a variety of neighborhoods and that we present music that can appeal to a variety of people,” Fradkin said. “We want to give people both access to wonderful music that they might already enjoy, but also give them the opportunity to discover a different genre of music, or just a performer they might not have heard before.”
Nussenbaum called putting this season together “a labor of love” for both him and Fradkin as they coordinated dates, times and spaces for each concert.
Fradkin hopes people who attend the shows have a “slightly more open mind” to kinds of music they haven’t heard before.
“I would love if someone left one of our concerts and went home and … was inspired to listen to more of that kind of music,” she said, “or look up that artist and go down some kind of rabbit hole.”