By Stephen Vargha
Where would we be at Christmas without Antonio Vivaldi? The Cuenca Symphony knows that answer: Vivaldi has made music magical for Christmas. The Italian composer’s renditions make us merry and bright every year. So, the symphony with the participation of the Coro Pumapungo is performing Gloria in D Major.
“Christmas should be more happiness, but this concert is more soft… lighter than normal,” Priscila Urgilés, Volunteer Conductor, explains. “Vivaldi’s music is personal and intimate. He has a lot of style.”
This is the third year that Christmas music is part of Festival Viva Vivaldi. It is a festival founded by Maestro Michael Meissner that is becoming a popular annual event.
The first of the three holiday concerts was performed Thursday night at the Casa de la Cultura theater, in El Centro. The rest of the repertoire included “Rin Rin,” a popular Andalusian (southern Spain) carol by Manuel Navarro Mollor, “Niño Lindo,” a Venezuelan aguinaldo (a genre of Christmas music that generally has six verses), “Achachallaw Sumaq Niño,” a popular Peruvian carol, and “Los Peces en el Río,” a traditional carol of Extremadura (western Spain).
Urgilés says Coro Pumapungo has adapted to the current health situation to present some holiday cheer. “We are performing with a smaller group. There are sixteen singers for the holiday concert. Normally, we are 32 to 40 singers.”
“We are performing shorter pieces to accommodate the shorter practice as well as social distancing restrictions,” the Cuenca native and conductor stated.
At the age of seventeen, Urgilés left Cuenca to study music. She received master classes in Argentina, Mexico, and in the United States. While in New York City, she had classes with the renowned Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili.
Returning to Cuenca in 2009, Urgilés became the vocal coach of the Children and Youth Choirs of the José María Rodríguez Conservatory. In 2013, she became the Director of Coro Pumapungo. And in 2015, Urgilés became a singing teacher for the Polyphonic Choir and Symphony Orchestra of the University of Cuenca.
In the last seven years, Coro Pumapungo has participated with the Cuenca Symphony in works such as Mass No. 2 by Franz Schubert, Requiem by Camille Saint-Saëns, several Christmas concerts, the world premiere of Amor America by Martin Palmeri, and the world premiere of Requiem 20 by Quito native Jorge Oviedo Jaramillo.
The choir’s conductor likes what she calls “academic music” as well as popular music. She says, “It is necessary to perform other types of music such as rock ‘n’ roll. It is a way to approach the public with more classical to be shared by all.”
It is why “Gloria” is being performed along with holiday songs from Spain and Venezuela. “Gloria” is an ancient text dating from the second century and is part of the Catholic mass. It can be recited or sung to music, and there are many different melodies to accompany the lyrics.”
“Niño Lindo” is a song that children can enjoy Christmas night with joy. This Christmas carol known in English as “Cute Child” speaks the adoration of Jesus, the child who has just been born in a portal of Bethlehem.
The Christmas concerts closes Cuenca Symphony’s agenda with a message of peace, love, hope and faith. This message is especially appropriate this year as the symphony aims to fill the void of Christmas events in Cuenca being cancelled due to the pandemic, and with possible restrictions for crowds on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.
Maestro Meissner is confident the symphony can fill that void. “Because we are sure that music unites us and that those who share music share life,” he exclaimed.
The symphony has another holiday performance Friday, December 18 at the Casa de la Cultura theater (on Calle Luis Cordero) at 7 p.m. Their third concert will be Wednesday, December 23 at 8 p.m., at La Iglesia Católica Matriz Santiago de Gualaceo.
For the safety of the artists and the public, all the current biosecurity protocols will be followed, and capacity at the theater is capped at 30 percent. Entrance is free so attendees are advised to arrive early.
For those looking ahead, the symphony plans a rousing start to 2021 with “New Year’s Concert 2021” on January 8.
Photos by Stephen Vargha