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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

From Caguas to Vienna: Youth orchestra to embark on its first trip

Photos by Richard Gutiérrez/The San Juan Daily Star

Represents Puerto Rico’s first time in the Summa Cum Laude international youth music festival

By Richard Gutíerrez

Special to The Star

The Escuela Libre de Música (Public Music School) in Caguas didn’t have a symphonic orchestra until last year when they created a youth orchestra named Orquesta Sinfonica Antonio Paoli.

Last year, the school had a music summer camp where teachers and young musicians alike dreamed of eventually playing outside the continent. On June 25 that dream finally becomes a reality. Leticia Medina Díaz, the orchestra’s director, and her assistants, Elizabeth Cintrón Pérez and Benito Díaz Pilero, are just as excited as the kids are to be heading over to Vienna for the first time as an orchestra.

“It’s the orchestra’s first ever trip and the first time ever Puerto Rico has taken part in the Summa Cum Laude Festival in Vienna, which coincidentally will celebrate its 15th anniversary,” Díaz Pilero told the STAR.

Medina Díaz explained the trip’s itinerary: The group will take a plane from Puerto Rico to Zurich, Switzerland, where they will spend two days heading off again for Salzburg, Austria for their first performance. After that they will continue on to Vienna, where they will have another four presentations in the Summa Cum Laude festival.

“It is very important to note that this is not only the first time an orchestra from Puerto Rico has participated in this festival, but also the first time any country from the Caribbean and Latin America has participated in Summa Cum Laude,” Medina Díaz added.

The orchestra will have the exciting opportunity to play in a cathedral, and they will play in the Golden Hall of Vienna known as Musikverein.

How does such a journey begin? Cintrón Pérez said it starts with building friendships.

“As my colleague mentioned, last year we had a summer camp; within this summer camp, the students were able to get to know each other more and became almost like family,” she said. “One day the three of us were having lunch together and we began to ask ourselves: What can we do for these students, especially the ones who are graduating soon? And so we decided to travel. In a sense this is a gift to all of our students, giving them a life experience, not only because they grew so close together, but also because of their hard work and efforts, they have dramatically improved their music skills over the past year.”

To raise the funds for the trip, various sections of the orchestra raised money through concerts, even playing on WAPA-TV and accompanying Christian artists in concerts. They were even blessed to have received an invitation from reggaeton star Arcángel to join him as an orchestra in one of his concerts. The rap artists returned the favor by donating money toward the orchestra’s trip.

One of the youth orchestra members, Jaivette Perélez Ruiz, told the STAR, “I never imagined I would be playing piccolo in an orchestra, let alone traveling to Vienna.”

“I’ve always wanted to travel the world as a musician and also to one day play in an orchestra professionally. “It’s a dream come true, not only for me but for my peers. We’re not just going anywhere, we’re going to Vienna, where many great musicians play.”

French horn player Carlos Ortiz Colón added: “Leticia stated that she is very grateful to all the parents and the Puerto Rico Department of Education for helping this trip become a reality, and says that now all that is left to do is to practice … a lot.”

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