“I’ve loved Latin American music since I was a child,” said Cynthia Powell, Melodia Women’s Choir of NYC’s Artistic Director and Conductor who will lead Melodia Women’s Choir of NYC in "¡Alegría! (Joy!)", a program devoted entirely to Latin and Latin American-inspired music on November 21 and 22.
Performed entirely in Spanish, the program is anchored by Conrad Susa’s popular Carols and Lullabies, Christmas in the Southwest. Though the pieces for voice, harp and marimba are uniquely of Southwest America, they draw on musical traditions from Puerto Rico to Mexico, Catalonia to Andalusia, and are at turns sweet and lively. Joining the choir for the well-loved series of songs is Elaine Christy on harp, Samantha Wells on guitar and Ingrid Gordon on marimba.
Continuing in the spirit of Christmas, is a work for voice and piano, Misa Pequeña para Niños (Small Mass for Children), from Francisco Nuñez (b. 1965), a composer who is familiar to New York choral audiences for his role as Founder and Director of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. The seasonal favorite Ave Maria, by Valenzuelan composer César Alejandro Carrillo (b. 1957) makes an appearance, as does the beautiful and reflective prayer written by Saint Teresa de Ávila (1515-1582), Nada te Turbe (Let Nothing Disturb You), framed by a soaring score by Joan Szymko (b. 1957). Another Spanish lyricist spotlighted, albeit from a period more than 300 years later, is the avant-garde Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) and his Cuatro Baladas Amarillas (Four Yellow Ballads), here put to music by British composer Bob Chilcott (b. 1955).
“While I love every piece we’ve chosen, I do especially love Bob Chilcott’s settings of Cuatro Baladas Amarillas,” said Powell. “They are very evocative, sad and funny at once,” she said, of Lorca’s odes to the Andalusian countryside.
Duerme Negrito, first popularized by Argentinean folk hero Atahualpa Yupanqui (1908-1992), brings Melodia together on stage for the first time with very special collaborators, the Vox Nova Girls’ Choir of the Special Music School at Kaufman Music Center, led by Emily John. It’s a moment about which Melodia is particularly excited.
"Melodia hoped for a long time that we would have an opportunity to incorporate a girls’ choir," said Melodia Executive Director Jenny Clarke. "Centering the collaboration with Vox Nova on a joint performance is a great way to start building a community of singers who all perform treble repertoire." Clarke added that she hoped the experience was the beginning of an ongoing musical relationship with Vox Nova.
Vox Nova, made up of student musicians from grades 5 through 8, are also performing two disparate, but striking pieces: Francisco Guerrero’s (1528-1599) Hermosa Catalina, and the popular Mexican folksong La Cucaracha, arranged by the influential Venezuelan composer Alberto Grau (b. 1937).
"Melodia has been hugely welcoming,” said Vox Nova Conductor Emily John, who added the experience for many of the girls, who are accomplished instrumentalists in their own rights, is an important chance for them to work with serious musicians from a field of music apart their primary instrumental studies. "To connect with adults who love to make music, and who aren’t affiliated with the school, broadens their musical and cultural awareness," said John.
Marking the start of Thanksgiving week, the concert promises to be a chance to open the winter holiday season with equal parts reflection, grace and celebration. Particularly in light of recent tragedies around the world related to those focused on hate, violence, and terror, it feels more important than ever to come together and lift our voices for a little love, peace and "¡Alegría!"
"¡Alegría!" performances are Saturday, November 21 at 7:30 PM at Church of the Holy Apostles, 296 9th Avenue, New York (Chelsea); and Sunday, November 22 at 3:00 PM at West End Collegiate Church at 77th Street/West End Avenue, New York. A reception with light refreshments to follow each performance, and a gift basket raffle on Saturday. Tickets $20 advance / $25 door are available at Brown Paper Tickets. For more info, visit www.melodiawomenschoir.org.
Teri Duerr is an editor, designer and outreach consultant at Horse+Dragon NYC, Design+Communications.