Sunday, October 14, 2012

Cervantino 2012: Talking with Saul Bitran

What a treat for me to talk with the first violinist of an important string quartet, a group I have heard play many times. Expecially a musician about my size with a quiet but engaging manner.

Saul Bitrán, along with his brothers Saul and Alvaro and violist Javier Montiel, are in Guanajuato for two Cervantino concerts,last night a 30th anniversary concert in the Auditorio de Minas and tonight, together with the Woodwind Quintet of Mexico City, a program of contemporary music, same hour and place.

So what did we talk about? About our families, migration and Shostakovich. We are both descended from Jewish emigrants who came to the Americas in the early 1900s. On his mother’s side he is descended from Russian Jews, on his father’s side he is a Sefardi, a Turkish Jew whose ancestors had gone there from Spain five centuries before, during the era also produced the voyages of Columbus. Both sides of his family went to   Chile, but they left years later in 1974 when the military junta took over. 

When I told him I had recently been in Turkey, that the younger Jews are leaving. Bitrán asked me where they were going..  I remembered meeting a forty-year old man at a ferryboat stop who said he was torn between staying in Turkey where he had a business or going to America. "Probably the U.S. and Israel," he nodded.

Before long, I had told the violinist about attending many Cuarteto Latinoamericano concerts, going to a Quartetto Italiano concert when I was eighteen (I listened to an LP record fourteen times; the group performed from memory) and recently reading Music for Silenced Voices about Shostakovich and his quartets. He said he had read reviews of the book, it was a good one, and asked how the author’s last name was spelled. He mused that we can see the development of Shostakovich and Villa-Lobos in their many quartets over the years. (Villa-Lobos is a Cuarteto favorite, on their program last night.)

Bitrán said he had lived in the United States for a number of years.“Where?”


“That’s where I heard the Quartetto Italiano!”

Would I be coming to the evening’s concert?

“On Sunday, I’ll be at the Minas.”

He frowned a little, “The contemporary concert,” he said.

Sounded as if I would miss the Cuarteto's personal picks marking their anniversary. Such is the abundance of the Cervantino.