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PREVIEW | Upper Canada Choristers And Cantemos Offer Holiday Music With Latin Colours

By Anya Wassenberg on November 13, 2023

L: Ariel Ramírez recording of Missa Criolla at Odeón Studios on Avenida Córdoba, Buenos Aires in 1964 (Unidentified author, from the AR Collection - Museo del Teatro Municipal 1° de Mayo/public domain); R upper: The Upper Canada Choristers (Photo courtesy of the artists); Cantemos (Photo courtesy of the artists)
L: Ariel Ramírez at the recording of Missa Criolla at Odeón Studios on Avenida Córdoba, Buenos Aires in 1964 (Unidentified author, from the AR Collection – Museo del Teatro Municipal 1° de Mayo/public domain); R upper: The Upper Canada Choristers (Photo courtesy of the artists); Cantemos (Photo courtesy of the artists)

To kick off their 30th season, the Upper Canada Choristers and Latin ensemble Cantemos will perform a concert of Hispanic holiday music. The concert, A Seasonal Journey, takes place December 1.

Laurie Evan Fraser will conduct, with pianist Hye Won (Cecilia) Lee and guest musicians. For those who can’t attend in person, the concert will also be livestreamed. Navidad Nuestra by composer Ariel Ramirez, a folkloric telling of the nativity, is the centrepiece of the concert.

As Laurie Evan Fraser says, “As we celebrate both our diversity and our commonalities, we ultimately open the door to peace and understanding.”

Composer Ariel Ramírez

Argentine composer Ariel Ramírez (September 4, 1921 – February 18, 2010) was born in Santa Fé on the Rio Paraná in the region north of Buenos Aires. At 19, he began a teaching post in a rural mountain area of the country. However, his position, which he took for the sake of his father, also a teacher, lasted only two days.

It was in the rural mountainous region, though, that his fascination with folklore and folk music began. He studied local traditions, including the music of Creoles, gauchos, and the Indigenous people of the mountains. Ariel had already begun studying piano in his home town, and went on to the National Conservatory of Music, in Buenos Aires. He began his recording career in 1946 with RCA.

In the early 1950s, his fascination with folklore led him to formal study at the Academy of Vienna, and in Madrid at the Institute of Hispanic Culture. Ariel returned to Argentina, and began to collect, publish and record the folk songs of the Andes.

He composed more than 400 songs, and his work has been performed by vocalists Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Mercedes Sosa and José Cura, among others. He’s sold millions of albums.

One of his best known pieces is Misa Criolla, which has been widely performed by organizations such as the LA Philharmonic, University of Notre Dame Folk Choir, and Toronto Choral Society. The Missa Criolla is based on a Spanish translation of the traditional religious texts, and was written not long after the Second Vatican Council authorized mass settings outside the traditional Latin in 1963. Each movement of his popular mass is based on a specific folk rhythm.

Navidad Nuestra

Ramírez’ Navidad Nuestra is composed for a mixed chorus and both tenor and baritone soloists, with accompaniment by percussion, guitar, and was written for either harpsichord or piano (the Upper Canada Choristers & Cantemos performance will be on piano).

Written in 1963, in a similar fashion as with the Missa Criolla, the music is based on traditional Hispanic-American rhythms and idioms. Each of the six movements — I. La Annunciacion (The Annunciation); II. La Peregrinacion (The Pilgrimage); III. El Nacimiento (The Nativity); IV. Los Pastores (The Shepherds); V. Los Reyes Magos (The Three Kings) & VI. La Huida (The Flight [to Egypt]) — showcases a distinctive traditional regional style. The Annunciation, for example, is based on the Chamamé, a musical genre that hails from Northeast Argentina and Argentine Mesopotamia.

The text comes from poet Félix Luna, a frequent collaborator with Ramírez, and was written in both Spanish and guarani, the language of the Indigenous people of northeastern Argentina and Paraguay.

The Upper Canada Choristers and Cantemos will be joined by musicians Ernesto Cárdenas, kena; Miguel Vásquez, percussion and kena; José Sanhueza, guitar; and Rodrigo Chavez, charango and percussion.

Along with the Latin music of Ramírez’ piece, the programme will open with the Upper Canada Choristers in performance of traditional British and Celtic Christmas music, a Basque Noel, a Chanukah song, and a song in Hebrew to express the longing for peace. Laurie Evan Fraser contributed the music, and Jacqui Atkin the words for Comfort and Joy, a Canadian carol inspired by the pandemic and its adventures.

Audience members will also get a chance to sing along with a few seasonal favourites.

Tickets and more information for A Seasonal Journey, December 1 at Grace Church on-the-Hill, available [HERE]. The concert can also be livestreamed free [HERE], or on their YouTube channel [HERE].

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