Cantari, the select vocal ensemble of Voices in Chapel Hill, performed their summer program titled “Latin American Connections.” Under the leadership of Voice’ artistic director Dr. Sue Klausmeyer, Cantari presented a program full of Latin American choral styles – from folk songs, to tango and milonga, to a full-fledged mass. For this concert, Cantari collaborated with local girls’ ensemble, Sisters’ Voices (directed by Leandra Strope) and special guest bandoneonist Emmanuel Trifilio.

“Mata del Anima Sola,” composed by Venezuelan Antonio Estevéz, was a good choice to begin the concert. Cantari’s tenor soloist Paxton Reil veritably stole the show with his powerful and clear voice singing through the piece’s chant-like lines, and his voice soared over rolling, percussive patterns in the chorus. “Noche de Lluvia,” a romantic, intimate Uruguayan poem set by Canadian composer Sidney Robinovitch, was perhaps the former piece’s antithesis. It showcased the ensemble’s extremely skilled phrasing with thick, lush harmonies, before blossoming into a vibrant tango, supported by accompanist Glenn Mehrbach. Aaron Copland’s “Las Agachadas” concluded Cantari’s first set. This piece’s unusual, slightly dissonant harmonies were carried well by two competing forces: a group of solo singers at the forefront and the full ensemble.

Sisters’ Voices, whose members range from grades second through eighth, took the stage next with a few delightful folk songs hailing from Puerto Rico and Spain. The ensemble’s accompanist, Daniel Cherrix, provided charming ostinato accompaniments on a wooden xylophone for both part-songs. Sisters’ Voices and Cantari joined together for Jay Althouse’s “Cantar,” a classic Spanish choral canción. The arrangement of both the piece itself and the singers’ standing formation was planned in such a way where the young singers’ voices were still at the forefront; their impressively clear sound was supported rather than overpowered by the adults (which is not always an easy balance to create).

Guest artist Trifilio is an Argentinian tango composer, currently based out of Washington D.C. with engagements worldwide. His instrument, the bandoneon, is uncommonly heard stateside. This member of the accordion family is essential solely to the tango music of Argentina and Uruguay and folk music of Lithuania. It is similar to the accordion in sound and method of playing, while seeming slightly darker or heavier in sound. Trifilio aptly described the instrument as an “immigrant,” due to the fact that it was largely manufactured in Germany and brought to South America by travelers. The bandoneon’s interesting origins and history added a unique layer to the concert.

After several un-programmed instrumental numbers featuring Trifilio, pianist Mehrbach, and a lovely string quintet, Cantari joined the instrumentalists for the monumental Misa a Buenos Aires by modern Argentinian composer Martín Palmeri. Interestingly, Trifilio recently performed this work in Cuba with the composer himself. The mass is a juxtaposition of new and old; throughout most of the six movements, which follow typical mass structure, a strong and rhythmic tango motif remains prominent. The movements flow together easily and seem to focus less on memorable melodies and more on the “atmosphere” created by the music. The string quintet and singers followed the music’s synchronicity well. Soprano soloist Emily Scheuring was also featured, with several chant-like solos throughout the work that were interpreted with a sense of drama. Fittingly, the mass ends with a peaceful and unified “pacem.” The performance of this work was simply stunning, and concluded a remarkable concert.