I began ¡Navidad!, Pacific MusicWorks’ most recent show, with a certain sense of anticipation. I have been desperate for the holiday spirit this year and was eager to experience holiday cheer in any form. Without the usual winter activities and just a light sprinkle of snow in Seattle, the only Christmas spirit that I have found this year has been through time-tired songs and classic movies. In ¡Navidad! I hoped to find a fresh way to celebrate the holiday season. The impressive vocals by Danielle Sampson and Tess Altiveros, combined with creative instruments, gave me the sense of newness I craved.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the tone of the music, which, with its Cuban, Mexican, Guatemalan, Bolivian, and Peruvian origins, was completely distinct from the style of classic European and Western Christmas music that I had anticipated. As a member of the Latinx community, it was wonderful to experience and learn more about music from Latin America and its intricacies. Although the words (translated to English through subtitles on the bottom of the screen) were centered around the usual religious stories of Jesus’s birth, the tone of the music was refreshingly original to me. As opposed to Western holiday songs, ¡Navidad! provided a new way to enjoy the season through music.
While the instrumentalists wore matching masks, the two sopranos stood maskless, (six or more feet apart), and artfully conveyed the emotions of the songs through their voices and facial expressions. Sampson and Altiveros’ voices were at once powerfully distinguished from each other and beautifully combined. One did not have to understand the words to fully appreciate the impressive, clear, and strong notes of the singers. Distinct drums and various other percussion instruments, played by Antonio Gomez, added to the unique and layered sounds.
The intermission provided a short film shot during this past summer in 2020, with the piece Sonata Seconda for Violin and Continuo as its audio. With the simple scene of a group of friends coming together for a feast, it evoked in me, and I’m sure many of the other audience members, a certain sense of nostalgia for pre-COVID times. At once both a feast for the eyes and ears, the bright tableau contrasted with the lonely and darker times of 2020’s version of the holidays.
Tekla Cunningham, the piece’s co-artistic director, shared a thought during the intermission about the power of the audience which resonated deeply with me: “Concerts have always been a kind of sacred space, outside of the demands of day-to-day life. A shared moment when time can truly stand still… One in which you as a listener play an equal and essential part.” Even during quarantine, when in-person performances and audiences are impossible, shows like these can still bring us together in some manner. The enjoyment of these songs unifies us even beyond the screen, as art always has the potential to do. The novelty of ¡Navidad! specifically accomplished this because it felt like a new experience that the audience could discover together. Both a relaxing and powerful take on Christmas music, ¡Navidad! is sure to add cheer to your holiday season!
This event streamed online on December 12th. For more information see here.