A Mexican Christmas

The Newberry Consort | Ellen Hargis, David Douglass directors
EnsAmble Ad-Hoc | Francy Acosta, José Luis Posada directors

Release Date: November 12, 2021
Catalog #: NV6375
Format: Digital & Physical
Baroque
Holiday
Vocal Music
Choir

The Newberry Consort and EnsAmble Ad-Hoc present A MEXICAN CHRISTMAS, an album of 17th century traditional music for worship and celebration. The collection features pieces commonly heard in both liturgical service and in the streets, and evoke the solemnity and fanfare heard in Mexico City’s convents and plazas, with jubilant vocals and lively strings, guitars, and percussion.  Organ, harp, bassoon, and a variety of Mexican traditional instruments bring this exuberant and diverse music to life.

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Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Introducción/Christus natus est nobis Juan Gutiérrez De Padilla Convent Ensemble: The Newberry Consort, Villancico Ensemble: EnsAmble Ad-Hoc 5:04
02 Voces, las de la capilla Juan Gutiérrez De Padilla Convent Ensemble: The Newberry Consort 6:54
03 Andrés ¿Do queda el ganado? (guineo) Gaspar Fernández Villancico Ensemble: EnsAmble Ad-Hoc 3:44
04 Qué música divina José De Cáseda Convent Ensemble: The Newberry Consort 9:05
05 Serenísima una noche Fray Jerónimo Gonzalez Convent Ensemble: The Newberry Consort, Villancico Ensemble: EnsAmble Ad-Hoc 4:00
06 Al establo más dichoso Juan Gutiérrez De Padilla Villancico Ensemble: EnsAmble Ad-Hoc 8:37
07 Suspended, Cielos, vuestro dulce canto Joan Cererols Montserrat Convent Ensemble: The Newberry Consort 10:47
08 Si al nacer o miniño Juan Gutiérrez De Padilla Convent Ensemble: The Newberry Consort, Villancico Ensemble: EnsAmble Ad-Hoc 4:43
09 Dame albriçias, mano Antón (negrito) Gaspar Fernández Convent Ensemble: The Newberry Consort, Villancico Ensemble: EnsAmble Ad-Hoc 3:46
10 Cumbé Santiago De Murcia, arr. J. L. Posada Villancico Ensemble: EnsAmble Ad-Hoc 2:58
11 La Azucena Santiago De Murcia, arr. J. L. Posada Villancico Ensemble: EnsAmble Ad-Hoc 2:39
12 Convidando está la noche Juan García De Zéspedes Convent Ensemble: The Newberry Consort, Villancico Ensemble: EnsAmble Ad-Hoc 7:14

CONVENT ENSEMBLE: THE NEWBERRY CONSORT
Ellen Hargis soprano, director
Elena Mullins, soprano
Lucía Mier y Terán Romero, soprano
Margaret Carpenter Haigh, soprano
Salomé Sandoval McNutt, soprano
Allison Selby Cook, alto
Beverly Simmons, alto
Candace Smith, alto
Rachel Begley, bassoon
Frances Conover Fitch, organ
Katherine Shuldiner, viola da gamba
Claire Happel Ashe, harp

VILLANCICO ENSEMBLE: ENSAMBLE AD-HOC
Francy Acosta soprano, director
Carolina Gómez, soprano
Amaranta Flores-Gualtieri, soprano
Magaly Cordero, alto
Nythia Martinez, alto
Camilo Rasquin, baritone
José Luis Posada guitars, director
Raúl Fernández, jarana
Patricio Leija leona
Javier Saume, percussion
Zacbe Pichardo, harp

WITH GUEST ARTISTS
Brandi Berry, violin
David Douglass, violin
Matthew Dean, tenor
Brandon Acker, baroque guitar
Eric Miranda, bass
with Jade J. Maze Al establo mas dichoso

Recorded live Dec 8, 2019 at First United Methodist Church in Evanston IL Recording Engineer John Mccortney, Airwave Studios

Executive Producer Bob Lord

Executive A&R Sam Renshaw
A&R Director Brandon MacNeil
A&R Morgan Santos

General Manager of Audio & Sessions Jan Košulič
Production Director Levi Brown
Audio Director Lucas Paquette

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming
Publicity Patrick Niland, Sara Warner

Artist Information

The Newberry Consort

Ensemble

The Newberry Consort presents historically-informed programs of early music—often drawn from the collections at the Newberry Library—through an annual concert series in Chicago, national and international touring, residencies at colleges and universities, and recordings. The Newberry Consort was founded in 1986 and has offered an annual concert series continuously since 1988. The ensemble incorporated as an independent nonprofit organization in 2009.

Learn More

EnsAmble Ad-Hoc

Ensemble

EnsAmble Ad-Hoc was founded in Colombia by soprano Francy Acosta and lute & baroque guitar player José Luis Posada. Wanting to better approach the music they performed brought them to the United States, 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.

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. 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.

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. 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. Qué música divina, invoking the lute and vihuela, praises music’s infinite power to astound and inspire, although its true essence can only be understood by the soul. In the end, it confounds our minds as it makes us swoon with its beauty.

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)

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’s offerings. The complete body of pieces we perform contains 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 23 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 albriçias, 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, and bajón (bassoon). 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