Billy Traylor is founder and artistic director of the Austin Baroque Orchestra and Chorus. The group recently held an online concert recorded at Mission Concepción in San Antonio. Traylor says the UNESCO World Heritage Site is an ideal venue because its acoustics are similar to that of the cathedrals in Spain or Latin America – buildings familiar to the composers who wrote the music the group performs. The orchestra plays music written by Spanish composers and priests who traveled to the New World during the time of Spanish imperialism in North and South America.
“One of the things I get asked a lot when I say I study early Latin American music is, ‘Oh, is this like old mariachi?’ I’m like, ‘No, it’s even older than that mariachi. … This could be music that was written in Mexico or what’s now Mexico, what’s now Cuba, what’s now Venezuela or Peru. But some of this music is possibly influenced by indigenous sounds.”
“One of the pieces on our program is by a Portuguese-born composer named Gaspar Fernandes, who came to New Spain and worked in Puebla Cathedral. … It’s a kind of a Christmas lullaby, almost. He set it to music and it’s become one of the more popular early-Latin American pieces.”
“I thought it might be a good idea to pair up loss and sadness with hope and joy, even as we express the sort of the hope for a time when we can actually be around one another in person and have concerts again. And it’s really important to sort of not just fixate on that hope; we need to acknowledge the loss and give people space to mourn.”
“There’s so many reasons to push this repertoire, whether it’s my own personal love of it or just the belief that it’s so important culturally. … For some of these composers, their names are only being said by a select few of us who study this music.”