May 29, 2001 – Puerto Rico's 45th annual Casals Festival, which opens Saturday and continues through June 16, won't have a St. Thomas component after all. But it's not for lack of interest or effort.
On Tuesday, the Birch Forum on St. Thomas formally announced the cancellation of a planned June 9 performance by Berlin's Petersen Quartet at the St. Peter Mountain Great House. As no publicity about the concert had gone out, the news probably caught many classical music lovers doubly by surprise.
Last year, the Birch Forum, a philanthropic entity founded by Patti Birch in recognition of her late husband, attorney Everett B. Birch, broke new musical ground by making a concert on St. Thomas an official part of the Casals Festival program. The Rossini Quartet performed one night at the Centro de Bellas Artes in Santurce and the next at the Reichhold Center for the Arts.
Intent on transforming innovation into tradition for this year's festival, the Birch Forum made plans to bring the Moscow Soloists, a 23-member Russian ensemble founded and directed by world-acclaimed violist Yuri Bachmet, to perform at the Reichhold on June 7.
The group is scheduled to appear on June 6 at the Centro de Bellas Artes, and Bashmet is performing there again on June 8 in another ensemble.
A month ago, it became known that, because of his Wednesday and Friday commitments, Bashmet would not be able to travel to St. Thomas for the Thursday performance. Plans proceeded to book the Moscow Soloists without him, but earlier this month the Birch Forum ran into an insurmountable problem.
The ensemble members' flight home from San Juan to Moscow was scheduled for 7:15 a.m. on June 8 and, practically speaking, there was no way it could be changed. "There is no connecting flight from St. Thomas to San Juan which would allow them to make their return flight" if they were to perform on St. Thomas the night of June 7, Birch Forum board member Ricardo Charaf said then.
So, the Birch Forum proceeded to Plan B — to bring another of this year's Casals groups, the Petersen Quartet, to St. Thomas, to perform on June 9, not at the Reichhold but at the St. Peter Mountain Great House. The quartet is scheduled to appear on June 13 in Puerto Rico. However, it turned out that it has a busy regional schedule the week before.
In a memo to board members last week, Neil Prior, Birch Forum president, said he had just learned from festival management that "we would have to pay to bring the Petersen Quartet from Santo Domingo to St. Thomas and then pay to take them to Panama, on top of their fee and expenses." He added, "In view of the additional financial burden and the short time available, I think we have no choice but to cancel for this year."
On Tuesday, an announcement and flyer from the Reichhold Center confirmed that the quartet's appearance had been canceled.
The cloud has a double silver lining, however.
"The Casals Festival management was very apologetic and promised to work with us in July for next year's event," Prior said in his memo. And the Birch Forum has already laid the groundwork to bring the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra to the Reichhold next fall for the third successive year. On that occasion, scheduled for Nov. 3, the Birch Forum is hoping to present a performance with the Caribbean Chorale of J.S. Bach's "Magnificat."
The Birch Forum has been co-presenting classical music and other performing arts events as part of the Reichhold season since 1996, when it brought in violinist Itzhak Perlman and poet-dramatist Maya Angelou. This past season, in addition to the Puerto Rico orchestra, it sponsored the January appearance of operatic soprano Harolyn Blackwell and the April performance of the New Jersey Chamber Orchestra.


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