The St. Augustine Music Festival was founded in 2007 by Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra members Jorge A. Peña (viola) and Jin Kim-Peña (cello), with the invaluable participation and support of many other musicians and the local community. These concerts are held each June at the historic Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.
Jorge, what inspired you to create a Chamber Music Festival 10 years ago?
I saw that in the summer time, there was a big void of good classical music offering, especially in a beautiful place like St. Augustine. Many local professional musicians including myself would leave Jacksonville and go play at other music festivals right after the Jacksonville Symphony’s season was over.
When I moved to the area to play in the Jax Symphony twenty years ago, I was interested in playing chamber music in addition to the symphonic music we played during the season. There were no opportunities in the community for the local talents. The local presenters were only interested in bringing musicians from out of town. So my wife and I set out to change that and establish a vehicle to showcase the local professional musicians who otherwise would leave the area during the summer and coupled them with internationally recognized musicians. We chose great standard classical music pieces but also new and/or unknown pieces, set up a fun yet professional environment and left the rest to chance
Why did you choose St Augustine and the Cathedral Basilica as your venue for the Festival? How did the relationship with the Cathedral Basilica start?
I was fortunate that my friend and former Director of Music for the Cathedral Bob Moore, whom my wife and I had collaborated with many times before introduced us to the Cathedral by invited us to play at the church a few times. The shoebox shape of the Cathedral Basilica and its size provided the perfect acoustic for this type of music. I knew then that we had to have the festival’s home at the Cathedral; in the initial plan, I also wanted to use the other beautiful churches in the historic area of St. Augustine and I hope to still be able to grow the festival to incorporate these churches in the future.
As artistic director, what was your vision for the Series? These are FREE concerts. Was that part of your vision?
I wanted to keep the festival free from the beginning, I saw this as my way of giving back to the community in the only way I could, with beautiful music and inspiring performances.
Where are you from? How did you come to reside in Northeast Florida?
I was born in Honduras, Central America. I grew up in a colonial town very similar to St. Augustine called Santa Rosa de Copan up in the mountains. Initially I came to the US to study at Columbus (GA) State University. After graduating from CSU, I studied at John’s Hopkins’ Peabody Conservatory. My first job was with the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra after that I moved to sunny Florida to play in the Jacksonville Symphony.
How has St. Augustine changed over last 10 years?
I think the festival has sparked a flurry of other musical initiatives not only in St. Augustine but also other areas near by. Ten years ago, there was nothing much going on in classical music sense, but now there are festivals going on in different venues almost every weekend through out the year. At the time when we wanted to start the festival, the pastor of the Basilica Fr. Tim Lozier, thought the church was not being utilized enough and he wanted to show the church’s beauty to the public at large. I think the SAMF provided the right opportunity, and he was generous in giving us a chance to start the festival yet it has been current pastor Fr. Tom Willis and Bishop Felipe Estevez, who have continued to embrace and host the festival at the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.