Earthquake anniversary commemorated with historic Austrian choir

Chile will host the 250 year old choir in Valparaíso, Santiago and Concepción to honor a year of reconstruction.

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Almost a year after registering the fifth strongest earthquake in history, the city of Concepción was rocked again on Feb. 11 by a 6.8 magnititude quake, with as many as 120 aftershocks in the following week. Though there were no fatalities and little serious damage—a testament to the quality of reconstruction efforts in the region—this was nevertheless a jarring reminder of the catastrophic events of Feb. 27, 2010.

But it is not the only one. At 8 pm on Feb. 27, 2011, the Universidad de Concepción will host the University of Vienna Choir in a concert to celebrate a year of hard work and resilience, and the birth of a new cultural relationship between Austria and Chile.

The concert was organized by Felipe Cubillos, the driving force behind Desafio Levantemos Chile, an independent fundraising and development organization that has been a powerful force in reconstruction efforts. By November 2010, Cubillos’ organization had already raised US$7.6 million, used primarily to aid school construction, but also funding community construction projects and small businesses that were destroyed in the disaster.

Hailing from the oldest German-language university in the world, the University of Vienna Choir dates back 250 years and has had such musical greats as Anton Bruckner at its helm. The choir will arrive in Chile for its first concert on Feb. 25 at Valparaíso’s Municipal Theater in celebration of the Cultural Institute of Providencia’s 50 years of arts programming in the coastal city, and the capital of Santiago.

The 64-voice choral ensemble will arrive in Concepción to perform a capella works by the great Romantic composers, traditional Viennese waltzes, and, according to choir director Vijay Upadhyaya, music from Latin America as well.

The brief tour will end when the choir returns to Santiago for a free choral and orchestral concert in Providencia’s Parque Bustamante on March 4, which will include crowd pleasers like the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and excerpts from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. For this concert, 40 Chilean singers will join the Viennese ensemble, accompanied by 70 musicians from the Concepción Symphony Orchestra.

“For me, music is not just about giving concerts. It is also about bringing people together,” said Upadhyaya in an interview with El Mercurio.

Upadhyaya and Cubillos share in this goal of bringing people together. For Cubillos this has meant uniting independent fundraising with public works and helping inspire the people to work together in rebuilding their land and their lives.

Upadhyaya and his choir see an opportunity to bring people together over international boundaries. “This is just the beginning of my relationship with Chile,” he said.