Alberto Grau, Caracas, cassette tape, chorus, Claudio Abbado, Construir Cantando, Deutsche Grammophon, El Universal, Félix Rojas Alva, Guido D'Arezzo International Choir Competition, Hänssler Verlag, International Bach Academy, Krzyzstof Penderecki, long-playing record, María Guinand, Movimiento Coral Cantemos, Osvaldo Golijov, Schola Cantorum Foundation of Caracas, Schola Cantorum of Caracas, Simon Rattle, St. Mark Passion, Stuttgart, University of Bristol, Voces Andinas a Coro, Yubrí Arraiz Pinto
The verdict read: “She has consolidated her name within the international choral community, representing a young continent, and opened new horizons in choral music by building a great network of immense artistic relevance.” Those resounding arguments outline the verdict handed down by a jury comprising global music masters who granted María Guinand the Helmuth-Rilling Prize issued by the International Bach Academy, in its first edition (2009), for her contribution to the development of music arts. Guinand views this recognition by the music world as a major triumph of the Schola Cantorum of Caracas, a choral music organization that has become a solid family for the artist for over forty-five years.
What is most impressive when speaking with this slim-figured, soft-spoken Caracas native with a tenacious character is her vast résumé. A tireless worker, as part of her driven efforts to promote symphonic choral repertoires, she has founded numerous groups, directed orchestras in Venezuela and abroad and prepared choruses for directors such as Simon Rattle, Claudio Abbado and Krzyzstof Penderecki. In addition, she takes active part in guest appearances in choral events, as a director, jury, lecturer, and instructor throughout the world.
This artist and cultural advocate struggles to talk about herself in singular. She ends up using the second person at all times, most prominently when referring to her achievements as the product of collective efforts, which in 1973 led to the creation of Movimiento Coral Cantemos (Let’s sing choral movement). Then, a year later, she would be launched to success with the victory of the Schola in the Guido D’Arezzo International Choir Competition in Italy. “For the first time, a Latin American choir won the First Prize in that event, the most prestigious of that era. This victory led maestro Alberto Grau to create the Schola Cantorum Foundation of Caracas,” remembers Guinand, who was a student at the University of Bristol, England at the time. In 1976, she earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Music, returned to Venezuela and joined the Schola. It was the beginning of a story filled with prizes, intense teaching activities and huge international presence . . . from within Venezuelan territory.
Guinand has always been inspired by Venezuela. “I have always wanted to plant the seed in my own country. My passion is being Venezuelan, leaving my mark here and, from here, opening up to the rest of the world. This has enabled me to build, brick by brick, a choral movement, a prestigious platform, entirely from here,” she adds. Having embarked on this path, she views information management as a key element. “Nowadays, there are no excuses for not knowing or delving deeper. Nevertheless, at a time when all we had were cassettes, vinyl records and faxes, my husband Alberto Grau and I were curious enough to attend several events just to watch and learn. This was essential for the growth of the choral movement and development of our own methodology, which now serves as reference for the whole world.”
In addition to being involved with over thirty recordings and countless international recognitions, Guinand views composer Osvaldo Golijov‘s St. Mark Passion as a landmark in consolidating the prestige currently surrounding the Schola in the international choral circuit. “From its debut in 2000, we have been acclaimed by critics and audiences alike. The first recording in Stuttgart, Germany, released by Hänssler, was nominated for two Grammys in 2002, and the second one, produced by Deutsche Grammophon, was awarded the Echo Klassik Prize in 2010,” she points out.
Guinand believes that the secret to her success has been to harvest civic values and love for choral music. “The true sense of our work lies in forging better human beings by teaching them solidarity, teamwork, tolerance, discipline, self-esteem and, when this is all blended with artistic excellence, a marvelous miracle takes place.”
Construir Cantando (Building while singing), a program aimed at children and youths from low-income areas, is one of the pillars of her work. In addition, since 2003, she directs the project Voces Andinas a Coro (Andean voices in chorus), aimed at consolidating the choral movement in the Andean region.
As she approaches the age of sixty, she is entirely convinced of the philosophy guiding her career. “I am truly lucky because I have done what I have wanted. I feel that my artistic life, without the Schola, without this space within my own country, would have been senseless.”