In its fifth year, the International Music Festival, created by nonprofit performing arts organization Musical Bridges Around the World, has more to celebrate than in years’ past.

The festival, which consists of eight free concerts Saturday through Feb. 4, is a 300 San Antonio-partnered event, and organizers have designed many of the performances to pay homage to the city’s culture and history.

In a similar spirit, Musical Bridges is commemorating its 20th year of operations by kicking the festival off with a musical celebration.

“We’re starting the festival with the Founders’ Concert, which involves musicians who were with us at the founding of Musical Bridges,” said Anya Grokhovski, the group’s founder, CEO and artistic director. Her brother Mark Cheikhet (violin) and ex-husband Valeri Grokhovski (piano), both founding artists, will perform at Saturday’s inaugural concert at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre.

Among the festival’s concerts set to honor San Antonio’s cultural and historical landscapes, the International Sister City Jazz Ensemble’s performance at the Empire on Feb. 3 stands as a clear example of what the festival is all about.

“We’re bringing a jazz musician from each of the sister and friendship cities to perform in concert together,” Grokhovski said. “That’s our looking to the future of San Antonio.”

The Sister City International Jazz Ensemble includes saxophonist Shlomi Kohen of Tel Aviv, Israel; guitarist Prasanna of Chennai, India; saxophonist and flutist Anke Schimpf of Darmstadt, Germany; and jazz pianist Sonoda Tomoko of Kumamoto, Japan, among others. Together, they will perform an original composition by jazz pianist and composer Aaron Prado.

Another festival performer of note is jazz drummer Billy Hart, who will bring his unique style of drumming to the Empire on Sunday afternoon. Throughout his career, Hart, 77, has performed with the likes of Stan Getz and Herbie Hancock and has even done studio work for Miles Davis. He will perform with his quartet featuring pianist Ethan Iverson, saxophonist Mark Turner and bassist Ben Street.

Asked about the future of the festival, Grokhovski spoke happily about the prospects of expanding and reaching a wider audience.

“San Antonio is a city on the rise right now, and cultural and artistic programs are a necessary part of that,” she said. “I want to encourage everyone to take advantage of programs like ours, which presents free, quality art to the public.”

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