Cactus Pear Takeover: SAIPC Gold Medalist Scott Cuellar to Helm Week Two of This Year's Chamber Music Fest

click to enlarge NOAH HARDAWAY
Noah Hardaway
With the impending retirement of Cactus Pear Music Festival founder Stephanie Sant'Ambrogio, big changes are in store for San Antonio's beloved chamber music extravaganza.

This year, Scott Cuellar, the first of two finalists for the Artistic Director position, is presiding over week two of the festival as a "trial run" of sorts. We caught up with him over email to discuss his past collaborations with CPMF and vision for the future.

You've performed fairly regularly in San Antonio since winning the 2016 San Antonio International Piano Competition, which is now the Gurwitz Piano Competition. Have you performed or otherwise collaborated with Cactus Pear Music Festival before, or are you making your debut at CPMF with a big splash?

This is actually my third season in a row with Cactus Pear! I think CPMF was instrumental in opening many doors for me in San Antonio. Since my first season, I've come back to play with Olmos Ensemble and at the Blanco Performing Arts Center, also with CPMF musicians — including Stephanie Sant'Ambrogio — as well as various CPMF-related events throughout the off-season. It's been a major launchpad for my career, and I've met and worked with so many accomplished musicians as a result of coming here. It's been an honor to play with and learn from people who've made entire careers out of chamber music.

You're the first of two finalists to participate in a "trial run" as Guest Artistic Director for CPMF as part of the search for a replacement for Stephanie Sant'Ambrogio. How much input did you have into the overall theme of this year's festival, and how did you approach the curation of the second week of festivities?

This year was pretty much all Stephanie and Renee, as is custom — they've put together another incredible set of programs. I'll be the face of the festival in the second week, as much as anything, but my main duties are going to be to make sure everything runs smoothly, to keep the giant road map of the day straight and be the main point of contact for the week two musicians.

If you land the coveted artistic director position, what is your vision for CPMF in future years?

If I were to gain the artistic director job, I would like to branch out as best as possible to younger audiences, and to consider offering concerts with a variety of media or formats. I'd like to continue what we began this year, playing concerts in breweries and coffee houses to attract the growing young professional and student demographic here, and I'd like also to offer solo concerts of particular individuals as one program as part of the festival, which we did just last year, in fact, with Kyuhee Park's solo guitar recital. I'd like to explore other media or art forms, including visual arts, dance, narration, etc. I'd like to continue to branch out to areas surrounding San Antonio — CPMF used to go as far abroad as Mexico, and I would love to revive that with the help of some of our board members who are connected in Mexico — and expand the Young Artist Program to include public masterclasses and more visibility within the festival.

$5-$100, 7 p.m. July 12, 13, 19, & 20, Trinity Baptist Church, 319 E. Mulberry, (210) 838-2218,

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