Classical Music

Mercury Celebrates Holiday Season With “A Mexican Baroque Christmas”

Bringing together Houston’s diverse communities through the beauty and spirit of Mexican Baroque music.

In the spirit of traveling street musicians, Mercury spreads the festive, rustic and sacred sounds of 17th century Mexico throughout the Houston area by presenting the program, A Mexican Baroque Christmas, on its Neighborhood Concert Series.

Artistic Director Antoine Plante and alto Cecilia Duarte stopped by Houston Public Media to share their knowledge of this music and their love of performing it.

Check out highlights from our conversation below, and listen to the complete interview above.

On the history of 17th century Mexican music:

“Music from the New World – New Spain, Mexico – is something that I love … One of the cool things is that a lot of this music is related to Jesus and to Christmas.  What happened is that they would hire musicians from Spain to head big churches in the New World, and the composers would compose for the liturgy but they would also compose those villancicos (Christmas carols) about the story of Christ … They would make the music attractive to the natives by using some their [indigenous] instruments and some of their dances and rhythms as well.  So it makes a really unique type of Baroque music.” (Antoine Plante)

On the unique sound of 17th century Mexican music:

“When we think of ‘Baroque,’ we [think of] Bach and Handel, and this sounds nothing like it!  When composers traveled to the Nueva España, or the New Spain, and blended with the communities there, and found the natives and also the African community that was living there too, the music got this new life through new rhythms and dances. And percussion plays a big part of it, too … There’s guitar … there’s all kinds of drums … tambourines, shells, goat nails, and everything that makes a sound!” (Cecilia Duarte)

On favorite pieces of this program:

“There are two pieces by Padilla that I really, really enjoy because of the way they’re written.  I mean, they’re pretty difficult to read, even for me, who speaks Spanish!  I’m a native speaker and it’s still very challenging for me because they’re very rhythmic … [Catherine: So it’s kind of a workout for you?] … Yes! I have to go through the rhythms many, many times unit it gets in my body because the way the text is set is not necessarily with the actual accents of the words.  But it goes against it!  So there’s a lot of syncopation and hemiolas and very special rhythms … even the consonants of the words are percussive … so when you put it all together with the four voices, it’s really, really amazing.” (Cecilia Duarte)

On the goal of presenting early music in a contemporary setting:

“The goal is really just to move people through music.  It’s about the audience.  You come together as a community, and you’re going to have something that means something more.  You’re going to receive something and experience something that means something more than what you do everyday, that gives meaning to life.  If it’s not art and experiencing the human emotions, [then what] are we here for?  It’s about the expressivity, and it’s about the experience of the audience and how can we help make a little more sense of this sometimes crazy and busy world.”  (Antoine Plante)

Musical excerpts used in this segment:

Juan García de Zéspedes: Guaracha Convidando está la noche

Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla: Xácara: A la xácara, xacarilla

Santiago de Murcia: Jácaras de la costa

From Missa Mexicana: The Harp Consort [HM 2907293]

 

Mercury presents A Mexican Baroque Christmas, as part of its Neighborhood Concert Series, November 26 – December 3.

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Catherine Lu

Content Producer & Announcer

While growing up in Chicago and Houston, Catherine’s love for art, music and creative writing was influenced by her teachers and parents. She was once concertmaster of the Clear Lake High School Orchestra and a four-time violinist of the Texas All-State Symphony. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Catherine...

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