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After 25 years, Cantigas, Washington’s best-known and most eclectic Latino chorus, is calling it quits. But it’s not going out without one final performance on Saturday night.
True to its chance-taking history, Saturday’s program in Bethesda, billed “A Cuatro Voces: 25th Anniversary and Farewell Season Concert”, will include the song “Latinoamerica” by Puerto Rican reggaeton group Calle 13 and a world premiere composition for choir and classical guitar by Chilean composer Javier Farías, who will be performing as a guest. Cantigas will also perform two classics from Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla, “Libertango” and “Adios Nonino.” Other guests participating in the program include The String Avenue Quartet; percussionist Orlando Cotto; and dancers from The Washington Ballet.
Cantigas founder and artist director Diana Saez says “I wanted to show the best of Cantigas for this event. It includes Colonial music, new music, folk, popular and classical. I had heard an arrangement of the Calle 13 song by a Puerto Rican choir, I called the director and she gave me permission to use it for the concert. I thought it would be a great way to incorporate very young people (my two daughters and the sons of two of the singers will be the readers or rappers—all in their 20s) and a great tribute to Latin America, the source of our inspiration.”
So why is Cantigas, which won the Choralis Foundation’s 2014 award for most creative programming in the local area, calling it quits? Saez says that “around a year ago, the board of directors and myself started having a conversation about our strategic plan. We realized that we had accomplished our main mission: to create awareness about the diverse choral repertoire of Latin America and Spain. We felt that it was time for change. Personally, I had come to see Latin American music as part of a universal canon. I’m much more aware of the connections between our music and other cultures, especially when performing classical music or new music.”
Saez says the chamber chorus’ 24-to-28-person membership has not changed much over the years. She says “we have had a core of singers that have been very consistent. Some have been part of the group for the 25 years. But there’s always change. D.C. is a very transient city and you have to get use to saying goodbye many times. We have had singers in high school, college, young professionals and not so young professionals.”
Saez, who once put together an evening of compositions in Arabic, Spanish, and Ladino (a hybrid language of Hebrew and Spanish) says that “programming is my favorite part of the job. It’s where I can express my views. When people think about Latin American music they tend to have a very limited notion: that everything is rhythmical or fun, or in the Spanish language (we’ve also sung pieces in Nahuatl and Quechua and Latin). I want to make sure that the audience understand that Latin American and Spanish music is diverse and still being created.”
But Saez is humble about the uniqueness of her group’s repertoire and convinced that their mission is done. She offers no regret: “I notice that choirs in D.C. are incorporating Latin American music more often in their programs, so I don’t see the need for such a specialized group anymore.”
“Cuatro Voces: 25th Anniversary and Farewell Season Concert” will take place Saturday at 7 p.m. at River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 6301 River Road, Bethesda.