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A Divine Intimacy PDF Print E-mail
Written by Margaret Griffis, BT Contributor   
June 2018

Saint Martha’s Concerts find another new home

OConcerts_1n a gloomy Sunday in May, the doors of the chapel at our Lady of Mercy in Allapattah have opened for a group of classical music aficionados. Contrasting with the muted gray palette of the sky and the patter of light rain, a warm glow bounces off the gilded columns of the sanctum, which is filled with the joyous sounds of musicians at play.

This May 20 event is the final concert of the 14th season and a highlight of Saint Martha Concerts -- the Starburst Concert, which each year features young South Florida musicians at the launch of their careers in professional-level performances. This year, violinist Matthew Hakkarainen and flautist Sara Denlinger will perform a program of sonatas by Mozart, Poulenc, Bach, and Franck. Their piano accompanists are Paul Posnak, UM Frost School of Music professor emeritus, and Yianni Iliadis, a Frost School of Music doctoral candidate.

This year brings another change: The setting for the Saint Martha Concert series has moved from its previous home at Barry University in Miami Shores to the chapel at Our Lady of Mercy (3220 NW 7th Ave.).

The chapel, tinged in pink and taupe, is known simply as La Merced to the mostly Hispanic and Haitian parishioners next door at Corpus Christi Catholic Church. Both churches are part of a sprawling campus that includes the Mater Academy Elementary School, among other church-owned buildings. Work began in 2005 on La Merced, which was designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style as a nod to the large proportion of Peruvian churchgoers who not only attend services on the campus but also volunteered their labor to the project. Much of the scrollwork and gilding in La Merced came from their service.

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In time, church leaders hope to add two more buildings and a large plaza to the future Colonial Heritage Cultural and Convention Center. They envision the completed center housing retail stores, a museum, cafés, and meeting halls, in addition to the La Merced chapel.

The center will also exhibit numerous artworks, particularly from the Cusco School of religious art of the 17th and 18th centuries, and historic documents related to the Spanish colonial period in Latin America. Father José Luis Menendez, the parish priest, has already collected 130 pieces toward that goal, many of them already on display inside La Merced.

Why move from Miami Shores to a generally underserved neighborhood in Allapattah? Julie Williamson, board chair of Saint Martha Concerts, says the board was seeking a more intimate location than the Broad Performing Arts Center at Barry University, which had housed the concerts since January 2015.

For 11 years prior to Barry University, the concerts had been held at St. Martha Catholic Church in Miami Shores, but a change in pastorship precipitated the move to Barry. The new space was larger, holding almost 1000 audience members. And while the acoustics were wonderful, it lacked the intimacy that St. Martha’s provided, so a casual search was back on for a smaller, more appropriate venue.

“We’ve had a lovely partnership with the music program [at Barry], and the department of fine arts has been wonderful,” explains Williamson. “We look forward to a continuing relationship with them. In fact, Professor Giselle Rios of the music department is on our board now. So even though we’re moving back to a more intimate location that can be a home base for us, we’ll maintain ties with the Barry music program. We also consider ourselves born in Miami Shores. Our hearts are in Miami Shores.”

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Through fortuitous circumstance and a circuitous route, Father Federico Capdepón, the former pastor at St. Martha and a founder of the concert series, retired in 2016 from his job as an administrative pastor at St. Hugh Catholic Church in Coconut Grove. It had been his transfer in 2013 to St. Hugh from St. Martha that set in motion the move to Barry University. Although he still performs some priestly duties, such as officiating at weddings, funerals, and baptisms, he also devotes much of his retirement to Corpus Christi and its related mission churches in Miami. And it was through Father Federico that Williamson learned of an ongoing project to create La Merced and the cultural center on its campus. It seemed a divine match for Saint Martha’s needs, a beautiful location where beauty is needed.

According to Williamson, ticket prices to these concerts are kept low to encourage fuller area participation in the church’s cultural events. “Everyone deserves beauty,” she says. “People who are poor need it more. [Ticket prices] went up to $15, but it is still movie ticket prices. Our philosophy with the concerts blended perfectly with his philosophy of building the beauty where it can be available to people who can’t afford much.”

The new series will also have a new formal name, “Concerts in Residence at La Merced,” but the non-profit entity will, for the time being, remain Saint Martha Concerts. Williamson explains that the name is already well known in the community, and its namesake, “St. Martha, and her sister Mary, really express the duality of life -- you work hard and you have this side that meditates and philosophizes, and finds beauty.”

She expects that La Merced will become a home base not only for the series, but eventually for the non-profit group, as well. “We’re an all-volunteer group,” she says. “Even if everyone isn’t a member of Corpus Christi parish, it’s a group that has largely stayed together through these couple of moves.

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“We want to be able to welcome people to our ‘home,’” she adds. “We have the distinct feeling, with the relationship with the pastors, that we’re back to having a primary home to which we can welcome people, and our audience responds to that so much.”

Indeed, the location of this Starburst Concert in such a beautiful environment is a hit with many of the attendees. Violinist Matthew Hakkarainen says it’s a great place to draw inspiration from -- and it shows during his performance.

With construction on NW 7th Avenue completed, getting to the grounds and parking are easy. Questions about safety in the neighborhood seem excessive. True, Allapattah had a rough reputation in the past, but it is clearly benefiting from the rapid gentrification of Wynwood, just east across I-95.

Williamson says she is very pleased with La Merced and already feels the move has enhanced the group’s sense of purpose.

“We work really hard to bring the spirit through music,” says Williamson. “St. Martha worked really hard to bring the spirit to people and a feeling of community. That’s what she did, 2000 years ago.”

 

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