Music City Baroque celebrates Cinco de Mayo in high style

mcbSome of the world’s most intriguing musical treasure hunts are currently going on in old cathedrals and mission churches in the Southwest United States and Mexico. There, in dusty nooks, crannies and cubbyholes, musicologists are finding the long-forgotten masterpieces of the Spanish New World.

The New World composers – some transplants from Italy and Spain, others who were born and bred in Latin American – created a large body of spectacular sacred and secular music. On Sunday afternoon at Vanderbilt University’s Benton Chapel, Music City Baroque under the direction of artistic director emeritus Murray Somerville will present a program called “¡Hacemos Fiesta!,” featuring Baroque and early-classical music of Mexico. The concert celebrates Cinco de Mayo.

“At first blush, a lot of this music sounds European,” says Somerville, who was on the phone from his home in South Carolina. “But the sound of indigenous music does work its way in, especially in terms of rhythm and percussion.”

A lot of the music that was created in 18th-century Mexico and its territories was liturgical, and so Music City Baroque’s chorus will be kept busy on Sunday. Among other things, the chorus will perform the “Gloria” from the Mass in D by Ignacio de Jerusalem, an Italian-born composer who emigrated to Mexico in the 1740s.

Manuel de Zumaya was homegrown – born in Mexico around 1678 – and eventually became the chapelmaster of Mexico City’s cathedral. He’ll be represented on the program by his utterly charming Sol-fa de Pedro.

In addition to liturgical music, Music City Baroque will perform a kind of secular song called the villancico. These tunes are known primarily today as Mexican carols. Performances of these pieces will include traditional New World percussion instruments, including deer hooves and turtle-shell drums.

Music City Baroque vocalist Marieke Sattler, a linguistic anthropologist at Vanderbilt who specializes in the indigenous languages of Latin American, has served as one of this program’s principal advisers, guiding the musicians through the ephemera of New World culture. Her idea was to create a program that mirrors a Mexican festival, a performance that begins in church and then spills out onto the street.

“It’s going to be a festive performance,” she says.


Music City Baroque performs baroque and early-classical music of the Spanish New World. The free performance is 3 p.m. Sunday, May 5 at Vanderbilt University’s Benton Chapel, located in the Divinity School, 411 21st Ave. South.

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.