San Diego International Mariachi Gala concert to showcase several generations of musicians
The ‘25th anniversary plus-one’ of the annual scholarship-fundraising concert takes place July 16 at the Civic Theatre. The 10 peformers include Lupita Infante, Gabriel Solis, Mariachi Champaña Nevin and Ballet Folklórico Internacional
When opportunity knocked in the midst a global pandemic, mariachi music champion Jeff Nevin didn’t hesitate to jump into action.
Unable to hold the 2020 edition of the Mariachi Scholarship Foundation’s International Mariachi Summit Gala Concert at the then-shuttered San Diego Civic Theatre, Nevin went online in a big way.
“We did our annual pre-concert summit conference (virtually),” he recalled.
“We made 300 videos teaching mariachi music that we gave away to teachers. We put them up on YouTube, promoted them on Facebook, and had 235 teachers contact us from all over the world, including the U.S., Mexico, Europe, Australia and China. So, we made the best out of a horrible situation. And we got enough donations to cover our expenses.”
Despite the cancellation of the 2020 fundraising concert — its main source of annual revenue — the foundation still gave out more than $25,000 in scholarships, the same amount as in pre-pandemic years. It did so again last year.
“I would rather spend the money we have and give it away to kids, until it’s gone, rather than hold on to it,” Nevin said. “Since our inception, we have given almost $600,000 in scholarship money to more than 500 students.”
The gala concert resumed at the Civic Theatre last year and returns there July 16.
A musical celebration
The lineup will feature one dance troupe, Ballet Folklórico Internacional, and three musical ensembles, Alberto de la Rosa & The Tlen Huicani All Stars — which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year — along with Mariachi Champaña Nevin and the San Diego Binational Symphony Orchestra, which is also led by Nevin.
In addition, the heirs of at least seven mariachi-music greats will perform music popularized by their famous parents and grandparents.
Lupita Infante and Rafael Jorge Negrete will salute their respective grandfathers, Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete. Juan Mendoza (the son of Amalia Mendoza), Gabriel Solis (the son of Javier Solis) and Mirza Maldonado (daughter of Fernando Z. Maldonado) will share the music of their respective mother and fathers. Lupita Infante was a 2021 Grammy Award nominee in the Best Regional Mexican Music Album category.
“They will each do two or three songs,” Nevin said. “The whole second half of the concert is designed as a celebration of them and their families.”
Nevin, 53, has been celebrating mariachi music since he began playing it when he was 15 in his native Tucson. Equally skilled as a composer, trumpeter, band leader and educator, the Southwestern College professor has devoted nearly 25 years to teaching and promoting the traditional Mexican music style.
In 1998, Nevin was asked by Southwestern College President Serafin Zasueta to create the world’s first higher-learning degree program for mariachi. This followed the 1996 creation of San Diego County’s first high school mariachi group, a move spearheaded by then-Sweetwater Union High School District President Bob Griego and the school’s principal, Christine Aranda.
“Prior to 1996, there were no public schools anywhere in San Diego offering mariachi music classes,” Nevin noted. “Now, there are about 25 schools across the county and about 1,000 students are studying mariachi at any given time.”
Nevin earned his doctorate in music at the University of California San Diego, where his teachers included trumpet professor Ed Harkins and such award-winning composers as Chinary Ung and Roger Reynolds. For his dissertation, Nevin wrote his groundbreaking Mariachi Concerto. He has since performed with the San Diego Symphony and other orchestras.
“I don’t claim to be the first person to put mariachi with an orchestra,” Nevin said. “But as far as I know, my concerto is the first serious classical music piece that uses mariachi. The trick was to get both audiences to accept it as classical and as mariachi.”
Mariachi Scholarship Foundation’s Mariachi Summit Gala Concert
With: Lupita Infante, Rafael Jorge Negrete, Juan Mendoza El Tariacuri, Gabriel Solis, Juan y Laura Záizar, Mirza Maldonado, Alberto de la Rosa, Ivan Velasco
& The Tlen Huicani All Stars, Mariachi Champaña Nevin, San Diego Binational Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Folklórico Internacional
When: 7 p.m. July 16
Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtown
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