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Right from the beginning it was clear that this event would go beyond "static concert" and into the realm of "production". It began with narration followed by the voices of The Rose Ensemble from the back of the Philadelphia Cathedral. Drums soon followed along with the period instruments of Piffaro in the front of the church. A distinct feeling that I had been transported back in time overwhelmed me as the Rose Ensemble proceeded towards Piffaro to join forces.
The program was the culmination of a year long project funded in part by the Philadelphia Music Project - a program of the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. A recent tour in Bolivia inspired the ensemble to create a program that illustrated the fusion of Spanish music with the native music of South and Central America and how each culture influenced the other. The first concert series in the fall focused on Spanish influence on America and last night the clash of cultures and fusion of music was revealed in many works created in South and Central America in the 16th and 17th centuries.
A wide variety of music was presented with constantly varying instrumentation and vocals. The resulting dance of musicians as they came together and broke apart was covered by ongoing music in a seamless choreography. Especially challenging was the inspiring soprano who changed places, stood almost the whole night, held her notebook of music and sang, all while propped up on crutches. The choreography is even more daunting when you consider the unique space challenges presented by performing in three different locations.
Each combination of music: Vespers, Popular Entertainment, Dance, etc was preceded by narration from "Loa del El Divino Narciso", by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz; who's own fascinating story is summarized in the program notes. The clashing perspectives of the male and female characters provide interesting context and relevance to the music. The evening ended on a high note with a rousing Bolivian dance.
There is still time, if you act quickly to catch their final performances this weekend. For more information and tickets, please go to the Piffaro Plaza.