With a career which has encompassed all the hallmarks of success, the distinguished cellist Gilberto Munguia has performed in many of the major cities and renowned concert halls in Europe, Asia, North America and South America. From Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Florence, Brussels, Manila, Vienna, Bombay to New York, critical reviews have praised him as “a splendid virtuoso on his instrument and a fascinating artist” (Oslo), “who plays with great virtuosity and extraordinary beauty” (Zurich), and who “once again, playing at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, displayed his big sound — full and noble — and his enormous musicality” (Mexico City).
In the United States, reviews of Munguia’s performances have been equally glowing. Robert Sherman of the New York Times wrote that “the cellist played a difficult program, and played it with aplomb.” Following performances in their city, critics in San Antonio described him as “a top-flight cellist,” while in Sacramento, the papers stated that “Cellist Gilberto Munguia seems the ideal interpreter of the Elgar Concerto.”
Mr. Munguia’s distinctive style, beauty of tone and intellectual grasp of the music have resulted in concert and recording premieres of works by Anton Webern, Lee Holdridge, Joaquin Nin, Victoria Bond, Max Kinberg, Marcelle de Manziarly, and Ned Rorem, among others. His recordings on the Columbia and Laurel-Protone labels, and numerous radio and television specials in the United States, Mexico, and Europe have established his reputation as a master performer.
Although Mr. Munguia has been a performing artist for most of his life, a large portion of his career has been devoted to founding and directing chamber music festivals. His first entry into this field was as director of the West End Tea Concerts in New York City. This series of six concerts, which presented young artists in their first paid and reviewed performances in the city, was sponsored by the Central Savings Bank on Broadway and 72nd Street. The concerts were a huge success with Upper West Side residents. Among others, the series presented the Hollywood composer Lee Holdridge and the great Bolivian pianist Walter Ponce.
Several years after moving to California with his wife Harriet in 1976, Mr. Munguia founded the Chamber Soloists of San Francisco and served as director of the organization until its dissolution ten years later. At the time Gilberto was quoted as saying: “I knew that if I wanted to play chamber music regularly with my friends, I would have to organize some concerts for us.” The first concert was played to a sold-out audience in Herbst Theatre on February 4, 1979 - an un-heard of occurrence in the musical life of the city. Eventually, the success of the Chamber Soloists was credited by the press for bringing chamber music back to the Bay Area.
The Chamber Soloists were a resident piano quartet which brought in a guest artist for each of its programs. Among the guest artists presented were the pianists Jerome Lowenthal, Malcolm Frager, Susan Starr, Jean-Ives Thibaudet, and Leonard Pennario; violinists Camilla Wicks, Young-Uk Kim, and Miriam Fried; cellists Leonard Rose, Carlos Prieto and Janos Starker; horn soloist Barry Tuckwell; harpist Nicanor Zabaleta; flutist Ransom Wilson; and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
In 1982, Mr. Munguia was the host of a KKHI radio program which presented taped performances of the Chamber Soloists’ previous seasons with such program guests as the Prague Quartet, Regina Resnik, and Gordon Getty. One of Mr. Munguia’s fondest memories of the radio program was being recognized by the driver as he got into a cab: “You’re the guy who plays chamber music on the radio, aren’t you?”.
In 1985, Gilberto organized the Chamber Society of San Francisco in order to bring together several of the groups which had sprung up since the opening season of the Chamber Soloists. The TV special “Notes of Remembrance,” narrated by the mezzo-soprano Regina Resnik, was produced for the Chamber Music Society by KQED-TV and aired nationally in January of 1987.
During his years in San Francisco, Mr. Munguia made his first tour of the Far East. Starting the tour with a recital at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. as part of the symposium Mexico Today, he proceeded to concerts in Brunei, Sarawak, Calcutta, Bombay (a second concert there by popular demand) Poona, and Manila, where he played a recital one night and was soloist with the Manila Philharmonic the next.
Visiting Mexico in the winter of 1986, Mr. Munguia and his wife decided to make San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato their home. Within the year Mr. Munguia had founded the Festival de San Miguel de Allende. First sponsored by the Banco Nacional de Mexico, and then by AT&T, the festival grew from four concerts to eighteen. Presented during the last two weeks of the year, the festival came to be recognized by the Mexican government as the country’s best festival of classical music and throughout the world as: “One of the most extraordinary festivals of our times.” International Herald Tribune; “Comparable to the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center,” Harold Schonberg; and “Magic in Mexico: Festival de San Miguel de Allende,” Chamber Music Magazine.
Among the international artists who have participated in these holiday seasons are the pianists Walter Ponce, Jean-Ives Thibaudet, Thomas Hrynkiw, Susan Starr, Jerome Lowenthal, Ivan Davis, Bernadene Blaha, Kevin Fitz-Gerald, and the great jazz pianist George Shearing; violinists Stephanie Chase, Soovin Kim, Erick Friedman, William Barbini, Dmitri Berlinsky, Kineko Okumura, and David Kim; cellists Andres Diaz, Alban Gerhardt, Carlos Prieto, Shauna Ralston, and Gilberto Munguia; violists Myra Kestenbaum, Roberto Diaz, Burton Fine, and Barry Shiffman; flutist Patrick Gallois; guitarist Godelieve Monden; the St. Lawrence Quartet, Cuarteto Prieto, and the Solistas de Mexico with Eduardo Mata.
An Affiliate Artist (Affiliate Artists was an organization which presented young artists in eight-week residences throughout the country) for four years, Mr. Munguia played hundreds of informal concerts (in which he played and spoke) in schools, colleges, hospitals, social clubs, drug-rehabilitation centers, retirement homes, nursing homes, army barracks, museums, theatres, factories, shopping malls, on radio and TV, and even in jail. Following the Informance in jail, many newspapers across the country carried the headline: “CAPTIVE AUDIENCE” with a picture of the cellist playing in front of bars.
In El Paso for a two-year residency, he also crossed the border into Ciudad Juarez for many Informances in Spanish. Mr. Munguia then followed those first two years with a one-year residency at Trinity University in San Antonio as well as one-week residencies at Texas Tech and the Quad Cities in Iowa. The latter appointment developed into four, eight-week visits to the Quad Cities, sponsored by Quad Cities Arts Council. While an Affiliate Artist, Mr. Munguia was invited by Lady Bird Johnson to give an Informance at the Johnson Library in Austin during the symposium commemorating the tenth anniversary of the founding of the National Endowment of the Arts.