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The Newberry Consort Presents: A Mexican Christmas

December 17, 2020 3:00 PM EST

Join us this holiday season for the video premiere of The Newberry Consort’s 2019 concert, A Mexican Christmas, a celebration of the exuberant and diverse musical traditions of Mexico.  Over thirty singers and instrumentalists from the all-women Convent Ensemble directed by Ellen Hargis, and EnsAmble Ad-Hoc, a group specializing in early Latin American and Spanish music led by Francy Acosta and José Luis Posada, will recreate the music that would have been heard in the plazas of Mexico City during the 17th century.

Program Notes

The inspiration for this program came some years ago, when the Consort was on tour in Durango, Mexico. It was a National holiday, and outdoors in the plaza in front of the church, traditional music was being performed by bands of musicians, electrically amplified to echo throughout the square. As a result, we too had to be amplified – and to our astonishment, the resulting aural salad of classical and traditional music seemed to delight rather than annoy our audience inside! Everywhere we went in Durango that weekend we heard a soundscape of varied music: radios blaring pop songs, people singing and playing traditional music outdoors and in, organ solos filling the vast space of the Cathedral.  

This reminded us of the descriptions of 17th-century Mexican convents, with people gathering outside the cloister walls to hear the nuns so renowned for their musical gifts, and villancico bands, groups of traditional musicians with folk instruments, playing at the gate of the convent to celebrate the entrance of a novitiate about to leave the secular world to take the veil as a nun. For this, our second Mexican Christmas concert, we again recreate the contrasting grand solemnity in the cloister and festive atmosphere we imagine was enjoyed in the plaza outside the Convento de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación in Mexico City. 

Convent Ensemble – The Newberry Consort

Our convent ensemble offers a sampling of learned villancicos – those with texts suited to contemplation and often performed during a liturgical service. We have no surviving villancicos from the convent of the Encarnación, although we know through surviving records that they kept a robust selection in their library. We sing several that may have been known to the sisters.  

We open with Padilla’s invitation to worship: Christus natus est nobis. With its plainsong alternating with noble polyphony, we are drawn into the miracle of Christmas and the comforting message of salvation. Qué música divina, invoking the lute and vihuela, praises music’s infinite power to astound and inspire, although it’s true essence can only be understood by the soul. In the end, it confounds our minds as it makes us swoon with its beauty. 

Voces, las de la capilla celebrates Christ as the Word of God made flesh, but as an inarticulate infant, his cries create a kind of music. The text also makes musical puns on syllables that mimic solfege; “la”, “mi”, and “re” are on their corresponding pitches. In the section mentioning “the thirty-three” (Christ’s age at crucifixion), there are 33 notes in the original notation, and on the word “cuenta”, from the verb “to count”, Chorus II has a long passage of silence where they must count rests. This highly inventive and intellectual composition demonstrates the fantastic range of poetry and music that make up this singular genre. 

Suspended, cielos is an invocation to “suspend this imperfect music” and listen to the harmony produced by the baby Jesus’ cries, compared here to the sound of plainchant (canto llano). Rich in symbolism, this complex text describes instruments, musical figures, and antiphonal polyphony as the means to understanding the mysteries of faith. 

– Ellen Hargis (with thanks to Andrew Cashner) 

Villancio Ensemble – EnsAmble Ad-Hoc

Our villancico band contributes a good number of villancicos that reflect the blend of Spanish and African elements during Colonial times in Mexico. The guineo, a word used in this context in connection to Africa, its people, and their way of speaking, is a constant throughout the villancico band offerings. The complete body of pieces we offer contain references to dances, instruments, and costumes, which attest to their celebratory character. They are preserved in the Mexican archives and are the kind of pieces that would have certainly been heard in the Mexico City streets during the 17th century.  

Andrés ¿Do queda el ganado?, a guineo by Gaspar Fernández, opens with a dialogue in which a shepherd called Andrés tries to explain why he lost the cattle. Dialogue, a theatrical feature, was often used in villancicos, probably as an entertaining element. A prolific composer, Fernández worked for twenty-three years as chapel master of the Puebla Cathedral in the early 17th century. Serenísima una noche is identified as a baile by its composer, the Iberian Fray Jerónimo González. The word baile, rather than danza for “dance” suggests a popular character. The first section, a romance (ballad), depicts a story by the manger; the second part, the baile proper, is indicated to be played very fast, almost “like flying” (muy volado.)  

Al establo más dichoso, by Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla, is an ensaladilla (little salad) with several sections that feature different characters, from shepherds to a mule skinner, African people, and even angels who join them in singing “Glory in the Highest” in Spanish. Padilla, who succeeded Fernández at the Puebla Cathedral, has been recognized as one of the most important composers of New Spain.  

Si al nacer, o miniño, also by de Padilla, is set in the Galician language. Its contemplative tone is underlined by the use of a small ensemble joined only at the end by the choir in a delicate, yet rhythmic, response. With Dame albriçia, mano Antón we return to a dialogue between African characters, celebrating the news that Jesus was born in Guinea.  

Our two ensembles join to close our program with Convidando está la noche by the Mexican-born composer Juan García de Zéspedes. He joined the Puebla Cathedral as a choirboy and was then promoted through different positions until he succeeded de Padilla as Chapel Master in the late 17th century. The Convent and Villancico ensembles join forces for this piece, whose sections are labeled by the composer as juguete (toy) and guaracha. The former, with a straightforward homophonic texture, sets the tone for the lively guaracha, a term used nowadays to identify a popular Latin American upbeat dance.  

While voices in the convent and in the street both contribute to these villancicos, instruments were an important part of the aural tapestry. The “nuns” are accompanied by organ, harp, bajón (bassoon) and harp. The “villanciqueros’” offerings feature instruments played in Mexican traditional music, including the jawbone as well several descendants of the Spanish guitar, including jaranas (jaranas mosquito & tercera), requinto, huapanguera guitar, and leona.  

– Francy Acosta and José Luis Posada

About

The Newberry Consort is beguiling and intelligent, provocative and classic, ravishingly beautiful and deliciously edgy. The Consort has been delighting audiences for three decades. Directed by David Douglass and Ellen Hargis, the ensemble plumbs the Newberry Library’s vast music collection and assembles a star-studded roster of local and international artists to present world-class performances of music from the 13th to the 18th centuries…and occasionally beyond! Practitioners of “historically informed performance,” also referred to as “early music,” The Newberry Consort brings to the stage the sounds, stories, and spirit of times past. The Consort performs from its vast range of repertories in a series of programs in the Chicago area, and tours nationally and internationally.

newberryconsort.org | Youtube | Facebook | Twitter

EnsAmble Ad-Hoc was founded in Colombia by soprano Francy Acosta and lute & baroque guitar player José Luis Posada. Interest in the ability to better approach the music they performed brought them to the US, where they pursued graduate studies in early music. The core duet may invite ad-hoc musicians, according to the demands of each program. The members of this ensemble are proud and excited to be collaborating with the Newberry Consort once again, as they bring to life musical jewels of Colonial Mexico.

ensambleadhoc.com | Youtube

Newberry Consort co-director and soprano Ellen Hargis is one of America’s premier early music singers, specializing in repertoire ranging from ballads to opera and oratorio. She has worked with many of the foremost period music conductors in the world, including Andrew Parrott, Gustav Leonhardt, Daniel Harding, Paul Goodwin, John Scott, Monica Huggett, Jane Glover, Nicolas Kraemer, Harry Bickett, Simon Preston, Paul Hillier, Craig Smith, and Jeffrey Thomas. She has performed with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Virginia Symphony, Washington Choral Arts Society, Long Beach Opera, CBC Radio Orchestra, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Tragicommedia, Mozartean Players, Fretwork, Seattle Baroque Orchestra, Emmanuel Music, and the Mark Morris Dance Group. As a stage director of baroque opera, Ellen Hargis combines her interests in music, rhetoric, baroque gesture, and theater to create period productions with historical style and vivid human drama. She directed Monteverdi’s Orfeo, for Edmonton’s Festival of Ideas, and directed five critically acclaimed productions for Chicago’s Haymarket Opera. She has been the Assistant Director for six productions at the Boston Early Music Festival, and directed a revival of Gilbert Blin’s production of L’Incoronazione di Poppea for the Festival in 2015. Ms. Hargis has performed at many of the world’s leading festivals, including Adelaide (Australia), Utrecht (Holland), Resonanzen (Vienna), Berkeley (California), Tanglewood, New Music America Festival, and Festival Vancouver. Her discography embraces repertoire from medieval to contemporary music. She has recently recorded Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and the leading role of Aeglé in Lully’s Thésée and Conradi’s opera Ariadne, for CPO, both nominated for a Best Opera Grammy Award. She is featured on a dozen Harmonia Mundi recordings, including a critically acclaimed solo disc of music by Jacopo Peri, and in Arvo Pärt’s Berlin Mass with Theatre of Voices, as well as two recital discs with Paul O’Dette on Noyse Productions. Ms. Hargis maintains a private voice studio in Chicago, and teaches voice for the historical performance programs at the Longy School of Music in Boston, and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. She is a frequent guest teacher and lecturer in performance practice at the Eastman School of Music, the Juilliard School of Music, and other institutions, and directed Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie for the Cleveland Institute of Music winter opera project in 2019. Ms Hargis frequently serves as faculty on summer courses in early music, including the new International Baroque Academy/Musik Theater Bavaria, and the Lute Society America Seminar, where she was the Pat O’Brien Lecturer in 2018.

A founding member of The Newberry Consort, David Douglass has been a leading figure in the world of Early Music performance for over 40 years. His playing has been praised by The New York Times for its “eloquence” and “expressive virtuosity,” and through his groundbreaking work in the field of the early violin he has developed a historical technique which produces “a distinctively ‘Renaissance’ sound and style for the violin” (Fanfare). This exploration culminated in the founding of his ensemble, The King’s Noyse, a Renaissance violin band. As director of The King’s Noyse, and through his recreation of the improvisational repertory of the early violin band, he has received praise for his “enterprise and imagination” (Stereophile). Noted for his versatility, Mr. Douglass also frequently performs as a guest artist with many ensembles, playing the viola da gamba and medieval stringed instruments in addition to the violin. In 2007 Mr. Douglass was named Musician in–Residence at the Newberry Library in Chicago, and director of The Newberry Consort, which he now co-directs with Ellen Hargis. Mr. Douglass is much in demand as a writer and lecturer on early violin history, technique and repertoire. He teaches historical performance at Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music. In June of 2006, he was honored to provide a keynote speech for the Early Music America convention on “The Early Music Entrepreneur.” Mr. Douglass has recorded for harmonia mundi usa, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, Virgin, Erato, BMG, Berlin Classics, and Auvidis/Astrée labels.

Francy Acosta holds a DMA in Early Music from CWRU, an MA in Music from UNH, and a Bachelor’s in Music Education from Universidad Pedagógica–Colombia. Her teachers include Ellen Hargis, Kathleen Wilson, Ross Duffin, Armando Fuentes, Eduardo Vargas. She performs pre-classical repertoires with EnsAmble Ad-Hoc and other early music groups. She has taught music history and voice in Colombia and the US, and is currently a faculty member of the Merit School of Music.

José Luis Posada pursued undergraduate studies in Music Education at Universidad Pedagógica-Colombia. He holds an MA from CWRU — where he studied early music performance practice with Ross Duffin and Scott Pauley — and a Master’s in Education from NIU. In Colombia, he performed traditional music and toured extensively with Velosa y Los Carrangueros. Mr. Posada currently works as a music teacher for Cicero Public Schools and performs regularly with EnsAmble Ad-Hoc, a group which he co-founded.

Brandon J. Acker is a specialist in early plucked instruments. He has toured extensively in the UK and Canada and performed with such notable groups as The Newberry Consort, Joffrey Ballet, Music of the Baroque, Opera Lafayette, Haymarket Opera, Third Coast Baroque, Bella Voce, and more.

www.BrandonAckerGuitar.com

Claire Happel Ashe, harpist, is rapidly make a name for herself in the Chicago early music scene, performing with artists including Jason Moy, Sherezade Panthaki, and Joel Spears, among others. She holds degrees from Yale University and the University of Illinois and was a 2007-08 Fulbright Scholar. She has studied historical performance practice with Cheryl Ann Fulton, Charlotte Mattax Moersch, and Christa Patton at the Madison Early Music Festival and Queens College Early Opera Workshop.

Rachel Begley performs as a soloist and with ensembles across North America, and has been hailed for her virtuosic and sensitive playing on both recorders and historical bassoons. Based in the New York area, her recent performing and recording highlights include The Metropolitan Opera, Tempesta di Mare, Trinity Baroque Orchestra, Newberry Consort, American Classical Orchestra, Yale Schola Cantorum, Boston Early Music Festival, The Play of Daniel, Early Music New York, and more. She has been a visiting scholar at Indiana University’s Early Music Institute, and holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in recorder and early music from SUNY Stony Brook.

Violinist and 3Arts awardee Brandi Berry’s “four-string acrobatics” and “indispensable skill” (TimeOut Chicago) have been praised as “alert [and] outstanding” (Chicago Classical Review) as her “riffs … powered by a flashing blur of bow arm, [as they] rolled out with irresistible glee” (Washington Post). She has appeared throughout North America with the Kings Noyse, The Newberry Consort, Ars Lyrica, and many others. Ms. Berry is on faculty at DePaul University and Artistic Director of the BBE.

bbexperience.org

Margaret Carpenter Haigh, soprano, has performed major works as soloist with the Memphis, Portland, and Winston-Salem Symphonies; Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra; American Bach Soloists Academy; Bach Akademie Charlotte; and Oregon Bach Festival, among others. She is co-director of L’Académie du Roi Soleil and director of the Charlotte women’s ensemble Nova Voce, and she is on faculty at UNC-Charlotte. Margaret holds degrees from Case Western Reserve University, the University of Cambridge, and UNC-Greensboro.

www.margaretcarpenterhaigh.com

Allison Selby Cook is a Chicago-based singer, actor, and multi-instrumentalist, specializing in early music. After two programs last season with Newberry Consort, as both a singer and a violist in the Renaissance violin band, she is so pleased to return twice again this season. Other current and upcoming appearances in 2019–20: Music of the Baroque, Early Music Now (Milwaukee), Marion Consort, Chicago Arts Orchestra, UNUM Vocal Company at Millikin University, DuPage Opera Theatre/New Philharmonic.

Magaly Cordero has performed roles with the Cedar Rapids Opera Theater, Evanston’s The Savoyaires, and Chamber Opera Chicago. She has also sung with the South Shore Opera Company, Music Theater Works, and Wisconsin’s Music by the Lake Festival. Ms. Cordero is also a cantor at various churches in Chicago. She was a member of Chicago’s VOX 3 Collective and Milwaukee’s MacDowell Club. She is a proud member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Ms. Cordero holds degrees from Northwestern and Roosevelt Universities.

www.magalycordero.com

Matthew Dean is a versatile tenor, well-regarded for his “ringing sound, cantorial fluency, and elegance” in ensembles and oratorios nationwide. As longtime artist-in-residence at Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel, John von Rhein has praised his “firm vocalism and beautiful timbre.” Mr. Dean is founding managing director of both Schola Antiqua and The Rookery, and appears with The Rose Ensemble, Bella Voce, and The Newberry Consort in roles from cantors and peasants to scholars and kings.

www.matthew-dean.com

Raúl Fernández is a native Chicagoan dedicated to interpreting son jarocho and the centuries of rich music, dance and verse tradition of southern Veracruz, México. Raúl is founder of the Son del Viento ensemble and frequently leads jarana music workshops for children and youth. In 2012, Raúl developed and directed Paseo Jarocho, a production involving more than 20 musicians, exploring common roots and influences of son jarocho with West African, Middle Eastern, Caribbean and Indigenous-American music and dance.

Frances Conover Fitch helped found the groundbreaking ensemble for 17th-century music, Concerto Castello; her performance has been noted for its “precision and delicacy of wit.” She has performed on three continents and made over a dozen recordings. Ms Fitch teaches at Tufts & Brandeis Universities and The New England Conservatory, and is co-author of the figured bass workbook, Running the Numbers. She is also Minister of Music at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Beverly Farms, MA.

Amaranta Flores-Gualtieri is a Chicago native currently completing student teaching at Lakeview HS. She worked as a Program Assistant with the Chicago Children’s Choir. She herself grew up in this organization, which serves 5,800 children in 56 schools and 11 neighborhoods throughout the city. She now sings with CCC’s alumni group, Vocality. They recently performed Leonard Bernstein’s Mass under the direction of Marin Alsop. She is thrilled to be one of the Latino musicians performing in A Mexican Christmas!

A native of Colombia, Carolina Gómez has been singing in choirs since the age of 8. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Roosevelt University and a Master’s and Performance Certificate from DePaul University, all in cello performance. She studied voice under the tutelage of Winifred Brown and has been a cantor for various churches in the Chicagoland area, including Saint Clement Church, Saint Peter’s in the Loop Church, and the National Shrine of Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini.

Patricio Leija, leona, studied classical guitar at the Escuela Nacional de Música de la UNAM (Mexico, D.F.) and jazz at the Escuela Superior de Música del INBA (Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes). He moved to the Chicago area recently and has been performing popular and traditional music from Latin America with various local ensembles, including Fandangueros.

Nythia Martinez is choral/musical theater director at Northside College Preparatory High School. Education – Indiana University School of Music: BM / BME / MM . Notable performances/accolades include: Fred Hersch’s Leaves of Grass; finalist – Carnegie Hall Workshop for Jazz Vocalists; Barber Brothers Quintet at the Kennedy Center; Chicago Music Awards Nominee – Best Female Vocalist; Chicago Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble (CALJE). Recent features: 2019 Chicago Latin Jazz Festival; Chicago Arts Orchestra; Lake Shore Symphony Orchestra.

Javier Saume Mazzei is from Caracas, Venezuela. He has performed with Rhonda Richmond, Cassandra Wilson, Badi Assad, and recorded with the Grammy© and Latin Grammy© Award-nominated Sones de Mexico Ensemble, as well as national and international concerts, masterclasses, and residencies in Beijing, Kennedy Center, and Carnegie Hall. Since 2010, he has played with Ensemble Español and taught percussion at People’s Music School. Having moved to Albuquerque in 2018, he is a member of the Yjastros Dance Company National Institute of Flamenco.

Lucía Mier y Teran Romero was born and raised in Mexico City; she holds a Bachelor’s degree in singing from UNAM. She also holds an MA in Interdisciplinary Arts from Columbia College Chicago. In Chicago, she has performed with The Newberry Consort, Third Eye Theater Ensemble, Walkabout Theater, Erica Mott Productions, Rough House and Theater Unspeakable, with which she is currently a cast member and music director.

Luciamieryteranromero.squarespace.com

A recent review describes Eric Miranda’s voice as a “pliable, warm baritone.” His varied singing career spans more than two decades and has included solo appearances at Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, and in Millennium Park. Eric has twice appeared singing cantatas in Chicago’s Latino Music Festival and has also appeared with Third Coast Baroque, led by Rubén Dubrovsky. Eric is on the teaching staff for Mariachi Herencia de México.

Soprano Elena Mullins takes a scholarly interest in the performance practices of early repertoires, and co-founded two medieval music ensembles, Alkemie and Trobár, with whom she regularly appears. This season she is performing with The Newberry Consort, Les Délices, Three Notch’d Road, the Early Music Access Project, and Seicento Baroque. Ms. Mullins directs the Early Music Singers at Case Western Reserve University, where she also teaches medieval music history and baroque dance; additionally, she is on the voice faculty at Cleveland State University.

Zacbe Pichardo is a two-time Grammy nominee multi-instrumentalist, performer and director. He has over 30 years of experience in Mexican music, has musically directed works at the Steppenwolf Theater, performed in most major venues in Chicago, as well as other venues like the Getty, the Smithsonian, Library of Congress, Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, the MET, Carnegie Hall, etc. Mr. Pichardo has also had the opportunity to tour France, Portugal, Canada, China, Japan and Cuba.

www.zacbepichardo.com

Camilo Rasquin is a tenor originally from Venezuela with a Masters in Music from Northeastern Illinois University and a Bachelor in Music from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. As a student, he had the opportunity to sing in several church choirs and perform with small opera ensembles. Now that he has been in Chicago for twenty years, he feels very lucky to continue singing all over the city, while at the same time having the opportunity to work on his own musical projects.

Salomé Sandoval sings and plays lutes, early and classical guitars. A native of Venezuela, Salomé holds a GPD in Early Music from Longy School of Music; an MA from MTSU, and a BM from IUDEM in Venezuela. Ms. Sandoval has sung and played early, Latin American, and contemporary music in various ensembles and CD recordings. Recent collaborations, in addition to The Newberry Consort, include Bach Society of South Carolina, El Mundo, and her group El Fuego.

www.elfuegofire.com

Katherine Shuldiner graduated from Oberlin Conservatory in viola da gamba performance, under the tutelage of Catharina Meints. She performs locally in Chicago, as well as with groups throughout the United States. When not performing, she enjoys teaching the viola da gamba to children and adults alike. Ms. Shuldiner has taught at Madison Early Music Festival, Whitewater Early Music Festival, Mountain Collegium and throughout the year teaches the viol at Nettlehorst Elementary School in Chicago.

kateshuldiner.com

Mezzo-soprano Beverly Simmons is a singer and graphic designer. With a doctorate in Early Music Performance Practices from Stanford, she has enjoyed a varied career as choral conductor, university professor, radio broadcaster, concert presenter, artist representative, and arts administrator. Her association with the Newberry Consort is multi-faceted—she studied voice with Ellen Hargis, designs the Consort’s printed materials, and has sung in the NC Convent Ensemble since its founding. Simmons is the recipient of Early Music America’s 2018 Howard Mayer Brown Award for Lifetime Achievement in Early Music. She is based in Pasadena and Washington, DC.

Candace Smith, from Los Angeles, has lived in Europe since 1975 (in Italy since 1978). She studied medieval music at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis under Andrea von Ramm, and in Italy she collaborated with Cathy Berberian. She holds a diploma in vocal pedagogy from the Rabine-Institut für funktionale Stimmpädagogik. Ms. Smith teaches singing at the Bernstein School of Musical Theater in Bologna and the Accademia Teatrale Veneta in Venice. Her ensemble, Cappella Artemisia, is specialized in early music from Italian convents.

Shawn Keener has been winning over multimedia skeptics with stylish, intelligent projection design since 2012. As a musicologist, editor, and graphic designer with an upbringing in the theater, she brings a unique skill set to creating concert backdrops that are visual extensions of historically informed performance. She has an ongoing relationship with the Newberry Consort—notably Rosa das Rosas: Cantigas de Santa Maria (2012–15) and Le Roman de Fauvel (2016)—and created the projections for Les Délices/Blue Heron’s program of Machaut’s Remède de Fortune (2017 and 2019). Formerly an in-house editor at A-R Editions, the leading North American publisher of scholarly editions of music, Shawn now does editorial work on a freelance basis and loves having more time for design work.

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