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Navidad en laVilla

Unitas Ensemble presents cross-cultural holiday celebration

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Navidad en laVilla
A youngster serves as guest conductor for Unitas Ensemble. (Photo: Celina Colby)

On Thursday, Dec. 7, Unitas Ensemble performed their annual “Navidad Latina” concert at the Veronica Robles Cultural Center in East Boston. The seasonal performance celebrates Latin American music but welcomes all cultures to join in celebrating the holidays.

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Artistic Director Lina Gonzalez-Granados founded Unitas Ensemble in 2014 in an effort to bring Latin American music to Boston. “Through music we can be ambassadors of our cultures,” she says. “We’re Colombian-born but Bostonian by heart.” The significant Latin American population in the city encouraged Gonzalez-Granados. Unitas Ensemble will be releasing their first album at the end of 2017 and hopes to tour around the United States in the future.

The “Navidad Latina” program included both English and Spanish Christmas. Unitas Ensemble played, with Gonzalez-Granados conducting, and Veronica Robles, a Mariachi singer, teaching artist and founder of the cultural center, sang. The audience was encouraged to sing in their own language, and English and Spanish lyrics were projected above the orchestra.

Robles wore her full Mariachi garb and brought an enigmatic enthusiasm to her performance. Gonzalez-Granados conducted in a euphoric trance, as though transported to a musical dreamland. The friendship and artistic communion between the artists was palpable and the concert had the atmosphere of two friends welcoming the audience into their home.

Community programming is an important component of Unitas Ensemble’s mission. This year, they’ve been working on a “Mujeres” season highlighting female artists. In collaboration with the Boston Philharmonic, they’ve been visiting branches of the Boston Public Library to perform music by female Latin American composers, singers and conductors. Each concert is followed by a short lecture about the works.

“We want to give the message that women are important. We’re fearless and we’re here to stay,” says Gonzalez-Granados. This spirit was carried through in last Thursday’s performance.

The tradition of involving the community in the music extended to the “Navidad Latina” concert as well. For “Feliz Navidad,” a crowd favorite, Gonzalez-Granados auctioned off the conductor position. The money goes back into the organization for future programming and an audience member got the opportunity to conduct the orchestra for the holiday hit.

“Navidad Latina” attracted a diverse audience and brought together people from all over Boston. This was just the effect Gonzalez-Granados hoped for. She says, “Music is universal, and Christmas is a time to unite us, no matter what your nationality.”

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