City Music Cleveland offers works from old and new worlds
City Music Cleveland’s holiday concerts of music from the Old and New worlds will feature singers from La Sagrada Familia Church and other Latino musicians in collaboration with Cleveland State University vocal students to bring Ariel Ramirez’s Misa Criolla to Cleveland audiences for the first time. Based on Argentinean folk melodies and rhythms and featuring an array of instruments rarely heard in the concert hall—including panpipes, many types of drum and percussion, and the charango, a small high-pitched guitar—the Misa Criolla has been popular worldwide since it was composed in 1963.
Although Ramirez’s musical influences were Argentinean, the genesis of the work itself was an encounter he had traveling in Europe in the 1950s. While staying in a convent in Germany where he was teaching music, Ramirez remarked to the nuns on the beauty of the countryside and of a nearby mansion set in the woods. The nuns told him, however, that the house had been part of a concentration camp during the war, and that during this period they had tried to alleviate the suffering of the thousand Jewish prisoners it held by pushing food packages through a gap in the fence. Every day the packages were removed until, after eight months, the day came when the package was still there the following day, and the next. At this point the nuns knew that the prisoners were being moved and that, as Ramirez himself reported, “The dreaded journey had begun once more.”
It was then that Ramirez vowed to compose a mass “that would involve people outside of one’s own beliefs, race, color, or origin” as a tribute to the compassion of the nuns. After many years, Ramirez fulfilled this promise: back in Argentina, he chose as his text the words of the Roman Catholic Mass newly translated into Spanish as a result of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), and for the music he adapted the musical forms and rhythms of his native country. The Misa Criolla immediately became popular around the world, and has remained a modern “classic” to this day.
City Music will delve back some two centuries for the first half of its concert, to explore music from the Old World. Composed in 1774, when he was just 18, Mozart’s inimitable Bassoon Concerto is another piece that has always proved popular with audiences. Laura Koepke will serve as bassoon soloist. And the concert will begin with something of a rarity, Antonio Sarrier’s Overture in D. Although almost forgotten today, Sarrier was a timpani and trumpet player at the Spanish court from 1725, but he must also have been an important composer. Unfortunately, though, all his music is lost, apart from this overture, which was probably written to accompany the water parties of King Fernando and Queen Barbara at Aranjuez. The music for the Overture in D was taken across the Atlantic to the New World and only survives in an 18th-century manuscript preserved in a convent in Morelia, Mexico. The Spanish settlers clearly imported European classical music to the New World, and it is fitting that such a piece, spanning both continents, should raise the curtain on what will be a celebration of Latino culture in the Cleveland area.
The concerts, which take place between Dec. 3 and 7, include one performance in Cleveland Heights, on Thursday, Dec. 4, at 7:30 p.m., at Communion of Saints Parish, 2175 Coventry Road. For details on other performances and more information, visit www.citymusiccleveland.org/.
Peter Bennett, the conductor of City Music Cleveland’s December concerts, is an associate professor of musicology in the Case Western Reserve University Department of Music.