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Old Encounters of the New World Kind


Christopher Columbus by Ghirlandaio
Christopher Columbus by Ghirlandaio

The weekend after next, Boston Camerata offers its multicultural celebration “Nueva España: Close Encounters in the New World,” exploring the meld of Spanish Baroque music with indigenous American cultures and African rhythms. All Saints’ Ashmont at 3pm on Saturday October 3rd and Trinity Church, Copley Square on Sunday October 4th will resound with guitar, maracas, tambourine and Caribbean singers complementing the grandeur of cathedral voices, organ, and sackbuts. This Latin American Baroque program calls attention to the meetingplaces of light and beauty which arose in those terrible centuries of the Age of Exploration in the New World, emphasizing fruitful exchanges among American cultures, the Spanish, and Africans.

Camerata is joined by the Trinity Choristers, Boston City Singers, and the Haitian women’s choir Les Fleurs des Caraïbes. We spoke recently with Camerata artistic director Anne Azéma.

BMInt: Buenos dias; ¿cómo estás? Or as I usually ask, Wassup¿

Anne Azéma: Je vais très bien, merci.

We’re used to hearing you in French and in English. What led to this “Nueva España” season start?

First of all, we and our friends at Trinity Church wanted something special to follow up on the Play of Daniel production that turned out so well there last year. I thought, okay, this Spanish-Latino Baroque repertoire, with its choral sounds, salsa-tinged carols and praise songs, cornet and sackbuts, guitars and gamba, claves, maracas, castanets and what have you, is just the thing to make an autumnal joyful noise in the magnificent Trinity space. Great architecture filled by great sound.

And also in Dorchester.

This music, from places we now call Mexico, Peru, and Bolivia, relates to the cultural roots of many newer Bostonians who may not be aware of Camerata activities. We’d like to bring these pieces, including the ones with a strong African component, into the lives and activities of these neighbors. Also because All Saints’ Church in Dorchester, a recently restored masterpiece of 19th-century Boston architecture, is, like Trinity, a totally awesome place in which to perform early music.

Vicente with guitar
Vicente with guitar

The Spanish conquest of the New World is an epic of horrible memories. Do you get pushback about performing music from this period?

A few years back, when we performed “Nueva España” for a big festival in Mexico, several people associated with the event told us that this “colonial” repertoire had been more or less kept under wraps for generations, precisely because of the persecutions and injustices of the period. The tide seems to have turned, and there is now acceptance and appreciation of the music. When we ended this program at the Morelia Cathedral, filled to capacity with local citizenry, their ovation must have lasted around 15 minutes, perhaps the longest sustained applause Camerata has ever experienced.

Another anecdote to illustrate the growing affection for this colonial repertoire: one day Joel Cohen, who conceived and constructed the program for the 1992 Tanglewood Festival, went on YouTube to see who else had been performing this music. He discovered any number of young Mexican ensembles at work in the field, some of them making use of our arrangements from the Nueva España CD. The sincerest form of flattery, as they say.

Anecdotes aside, this is a chance to peer behind the curtain of history and discover that, all the dark aspects of the period notwithstanding, there were areas of fellowship. The choirmasters often came from Spain, but most of the original performers of this magnificent music had brown and black skin.

In terms of personnel it’s one of Camerata’s bigger productions. Who are your associates, and why them?

Amidst a uniformly excellent cast, I want to single out two native Latino-Americans: Camilla Parias from Colombia, and Vicente Charvarria, originally from Nicaragua, who are joining seasoned veterans for this production. Camila and Vicente help us give the music the right color and flair. Then, the two children’s choirs, Trinity Choristers and Boston City Singers, did a fantastic job last year at the Daniel performances. In this program of New World repertoire, where young high voices were often favored, their presence seemed utterly natural. We really love these kids.

The third choir, Les Fleurs des Caraïbes, helps us recover the specifically African sound and ethos, evoked by a number of the works. You can’t perform a 17th-century rhumba or guaracha without paying homage to the African continent, whose influence was present and vital in the New World centuries before the age of ragtime. Some members of Les Fleurs have been singing with us in this production since its earliest days, so what they contribute is essential.

Can we inflect history with concerts?

Maybe a teeny bit. Together we light one small candle, to illuminate other lives.


Brotherhood group
Brotherhood group

Boston Camerata

Saturday October 3 at 3pm
All Saints’ Church
209 Ashmont St.
Dorchester Center MA

Sunday October 4 at 3pm
Trinity Church, Copley Square


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