Sierra’s Christmas in the Mountains

Heidi Grant Murphy

 

On December 13 and 14, soprano Heidi Grant Murphy joins Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony for the world premiere of Roberto Sierra’s Navidad en la montaña (Christmas in the Mountains). Written as a cantata for solo voice and orchestra, the 30-minute, 8-movement work features texts by Virginia Sierra, and was written for Murphy who premiered the composer’s earlier orchestral vocal piece Beyond the Silence of Sorrow.

Navidad en la montaña is a nostalgic reminiscence of Sierra’s childhood Christmases in Puerto Rico. “I’ve wanted to write this piece for a while,” Sierra shares, “and it’s inspired by the ‘aguinaldos’ or Christmas folksongs from when I was a boy. Even then, aguinaldos were considered to be the ‘old’ style.” Heard throughout the Caribbean and other Latin American cultures, aguinaldos — or “musical gifts” — are rooted in old-world Spanish Christmas traditions and are the equivalent of Christmas carols or madrigals. “What distinguishes the aguinaldo from other Christmas songs is that the Biblical narrative is given a somewhat secular aspect by bringing the story to a local setting — in this case, the mountains of Puerto Rico. Also, the Spanish Nativity tradition emphasizes the celebration of The Epiphany or The Three Kings as main characters in the story.”

Sierra continues. “For this work, I used new source materials — folk music-influences I’ve never used. From ‘The Annunciation,’ to ‘The Lullaby,’ to the arrival of ‘The Three Kings,’ I allude to rhythmic and melodic references of the ‘Jibaros,’ the mountain people from the interior whose origins go back to the indigenous peoples of Puerto Rico. This music is distinctly different from and less widely known or recognized as the music from the coast which is heavily influenced by African rhythms and dance. But the spirit is the same. Aguinaldos are a disappearing tradition; but, they are also a prism of the Caribbean and Navidad en la montaña is a modern interpretation.”

Una noche sin luna, de lejanas estrellas, One moonless night, of faraway stars,
Y susurros de palmas mojadas de lluvia, And whispering palms drenched with rainwater,
La jovencita reza. The young woman prays.
Reza y sonríe, sonríe y reza. She prays and she smiles, she smiles and she prays.

                                          – Virginia Sierra, excerpt from Mvt. I “La Buena Nueva,” (The Good News)

 

December also brings another orchestral premiere—Sierra’s El Baile premieres on the 7th as Ken Lam conducts the Montclair State University Symphony Orchestra. On the 16th and 17th, Sierra’s ever-popular Fandangos receives two European performances by Andreas Delfs and the Lübeck Philharmonic (Germany).

For Navidad en la montaña premiere details, click here

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