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Magen Solomon Previews From Pole to Pole: Christmas in the Three Americas

Our December 2019 program explores holiday musical traditions from throughout the Western Hemisphere. We asked Artistic Director Magen Solomon to tell us a little bit about what to expect.

With the theme of “Christmas in the Three Americas,” will this concert be organized by region, historical periods, or anything like that?

No, the program explores the different emotions, and various textual and musical perspectives on the Christmas story. For example, the set called “The Mother,” includes a lush Brazilian Ave Maria, a spare Canadian There is No Rose, and a 16th-century Mexican hymn to Mary in the native Nahuatl language!

The familiar story is told from different perspectives as well, in the hope that we can draw the listener into joining our journey from the “Expectation & Preparation” to the “Celebration.”

How do this concert’s new pieces by Composer-in-Residence Alexis Alrich and Composer-Not-in-Residence Timothy Kramer fit in with these themes or the idea of “Christmas in the Three Americas”?

Tim’s piece, Cradle Song (Dormi Jesu / A Child’s Blessing) incorporates both a Latin Christian text about Mary and the sleeping Jesus, and the traditional Hebrew Jewish blessing of a male child. It’s an interesting acknowledgement of baby Jesus being Jewish.

Alexis chose a nativity poem by 20th-century Mexican poet Carlos Pellicer for her piece Pedacitos de Cielo. This lullaby – in texture and rhythm – paints delicate images of the joy and promise of this new birth.

Were there any new discoveries for you in researching choral repertoire from the three Americas for this concert? Anything you’re especially excited to share with us?

Yes! Three unknown 16th-century South American works: a beautiful Magnificat by Hidalgo, a Mexican motet in Nahuatl (a first for SFCA), and a Guatemalan Marian hymn. These are in sharp contrast with an instrument-imitating Haitian Noel, and a slyly rhythmic setting of the beloved African-American spiritual, “Children Go where I send thee.”

One of the most salient aspects of these works just mentioned, and the repertoire of this Christmas concert generally, is that it consists largely of music whose roots are not in the three Americas. There must have been great quantities of music covering these ten thousand miles before Western musical and religious influences arrived (and, in most cases, were imposed).

We’re so oriented toward Germany, Italy, France, England, and Spain as the homes of Renaissance music that we completely miss Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and other South American countries. It is beautiful stuff, clearly showing its Spanish origins but my feelings about it are always colored by the fact that it is the music of the Catholic conquerors. And because that musical tradition included written preservation (in notation), we have access to at least a small portion of it. The music of indigenous people is, on the contrary, largely lost.

We are also representing the musical descendants of those who came to the three Americas against their will. Slaves from many African countries were brought to these lands together with their rich and varied musical culture which, in many cases, was forcibly channelled into Christianity. We wish to honor this music without necessarily honoring the path that led to its creation.

Come to a Concert!

SF Choral Artists From Pole to Pole

San Francisco
Sunday, Dec. 15, 4pm

Oakland
Friday, Dec. 20, 8pm

Palo Alto
Saturday, Dec. 21, 8pm

Buy tickets in advance and save!

Sneak Preview

One of the pieces on this concert is Roger Nixon’s Green Grow’th the Holly, which is included in our CD So Gracious is the Time.

Green Grow'th the Holly

by Roger Nixon