Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Arts Innovator: Gabriel Ahumada, Colombia

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Follow my lead: Gabriel Ahumada rehearses before a performance at the International Festival of Music in Cartagena, Colombia. Photo courtesy of Joshua Z Weinstein.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Gabriel Ahumada decided to become a flutist more or less on a whim. As a child, he listened to classical music at home in Bogotá, Colombia, and took piano lessons, but if you had asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would have said “conductor of an orchestra.” He was advised to study a more classical instrument. Flipping through a catalogue of wind instruments one day, Ahumada picked the flute. “It seemed the easiest to learn,” he explains.

Colombian classical music has been reaping the benefits of that decision ever since. Ahumada grew up to become not only one of his country’s most accomplished flutists, but also a teacher helping to develop the next generation of Colombian musicians.

Ahumada, of mixed Colombian and Hungarian roots, now lives in Germany, where he is a soloist with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Konstanz. But he has maintained close musical ties to his homeland, which began with his studies at the conservatory of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNAL) in the mid-1980s. Returning periodically to teach at conservatories and universities, he noticed a growing number of young Colombians interested in playing the flute. “I saw the great interest and appreciation they had for what we had learned in Europe [and thought] classical music doesn’t belong only to Europe. Music shouldn’t have borders.”

Ahumada enlisted the help of fellow flutist and compatriot Hernando Leal, who had also studied at UNAL’s conservatory and now lives in Switzerland. Together, in 2008, the two founded the Academia Internacional de Flauta in Villa de Leyva, a small city about 110 miles (177 km) north of Bogotá. The annual, week-long summer camp provides aspiring flutists with training in technique and musical interpretation, as well as professional guidance. Mostly between 18 and 30 years old, participants come from all over Colombia, from Cali to Bucaramanga, for a program that begins with seminars and training and ends with a concert performance.

The academy has attracted steady interest, with the number of participants ranging from 16 to 25. Instructors have included flutists from Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela in addition to Colombia. The academy, financed mostly by tuition fees ($270 for “active participants” and $135 for “passive participants” who sit in on classes) and with assistance from Swiss institutions, including the Swiss Embassy in Colombia, accepts online registration.

Recently, Ahumada established yet another link to Colombia’s expanding classical music scene, performing in January 2011 at the Festival Internacional de Música (International Festival of Music) in Cartagena. He says the festival and other events like it are crucial to his country’s future: “It’s necessary that cultural development accompany social processes in Colombia, not exist separately.”

That may be a more “grown-up” goal than a small boy’s hopes of conducting an orchestra, but Ahumada intends to stick with it this time around.


Nina Agrawal is Policy & Communications Coordinator for the Collaborative for Building After-School Systems at The After-School CorporationShe previously served as Departments Editor of Americas Quarterly and as a Policy Associate at Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

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