NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 20, 2012

Engaging in early music

Boston Camerata to perform Hispanic Christmas celebration

By Katie Lovett
Features Editor

---- — The renowned Boston Camerata has performed across the state, the country, and the world; but at Christmas, there’s no place like home.

For the sixth year, the Camerata will conclude their season with a holiday concert at First Parish Church in Newbury. The show is set for Saturday night at 8 p.m. It is their only appearance on the North Shore.

The early music 8-member ensemble was founded in 1954. It has performed on radio and television, and its recording of “Simple Gifts,” a compilation of Shaker spirituals and chants, topped the Billboard classical charts in 1995-96. Their 2005 recording “A Mediterranean Christmas,” became an international bestseller. In addition to their performance schedule, the group is also currently participating in the filming of a documentary on the Shakers.

The Boston Camerata has been under the direction of French-born singer and scholar Anne Azéma since 2008. Joel Cohen, Azéma’s husband, led the group for the last four decades. The couple lives in Amesbury.

“This is home, and there’s nothing like playing at home,” Cohen said. The audience is filled with friends and neighbors, and, the commute is short.

“It feels like a fun family concert,” he added.

This year’s concert, “Brotherhood of the Star: A Hispanic Christmas 1300-1700,” is a musical tribute to Christmas celebrations in the Spanish-speaking countries, and explores musical traditions from the Old and New Worlds. While it will be mostly in Spanish, program notes will include translations. As with their earlier performances of the holiday concert, Cohen said Boston Camerata will be dedicating the performance “to children everywhere.”

Written and first performed in 2008, the program tells the story of the Three Kings with musical selections dating from between the 14th and 20th centuries. The musicians will use only early instruments, such as the lute, vielle (Medieval fiddle), vihuela (Spanish guitar), viola da gamba and Middle Eastern oud. Through the works, the group will “explore music from the vast reaches influenced by the Spanish empire — including the Iberian peninsula, North Africa, the Holy Land and the New World.”

The program’s title “The Brotherhood of the Star” is derived from one of selections that will be performed, “Los coflades de la estleya,” written by Juan de Araujo.

“It’s quite extraordinary,” Cohen said in a statement. “It’s about the three kings and they’re all black men and they’re dancing the rhumba as they go to Bethlehem. It’s totally world music before that term was invented, because it’s got these wonderful Hispanic rhythms, and they’re singing in this African-Spanish dialect about the newborn child. So there are three kings, Biblical ones, New World ones. It’s a lot of fun.”

During the performance, the ensemble will be joined by Les Fleurs des Caraibes, a Boston-based six-member Haitian women’s chorus. Cohen, Camerata’s music director emeritus, is returning to conduct the program. In addition to Spanish, the music will include some Latin, Ladino, Creole, Catalan, Portuguese and Hebrew.

“They’re really top-notch,” said Gage Cogswell, who helped bring the concert to Newbury. “They are the foremost early music ensemble in the United States.”

By bringing lively music, enthusiasm, and a “meticulously researched program,” Boston Camerata offers an appealing show, she added.

“It’s easy to get caught up in,” Cogswell said.

IF YOU GO

What: Boston Camerata presents “The Brotherhood of the Star: A Hispanic Christmas”

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

Where: First Parish Church, 20 High Road/ Route 1A, Newbury

How: $34 adults, $10 students with ID. They can be purchased at the door or by visiting bostoncamerata.org or calling 866-427-2092.