Death of Classical 2023 Review: Con Alma

VisionIntoArt & Death of Classical in partnership with Carnegie Hall present ‘Con Alma’ by Paola Prestini & Magos Herrera

By Jennifer Pyron
Photo: Unison Media

“Con Alma” was performed at the United Nations Headquarters in NYC’s Trusteeship Chamber on March 14th, 2023. This once-in-a-lifetime experience, presented by VisionIntoArt, and Death of Classical, in partnership with Carnegie Hall, showcased the album “Con Alma” by composer Paola Prestini and Mexican singer and composer Magos HerreraPerformers from the Young People’s Chorus of NYC, led by Artistic Director Francisco J. Núñez and many other performers celebrating International Women’s Month were also present for this exciting collaboration.

Speakers for this event included Sima Bahous (Executive Director of UN Women), Nadine Gasman (President of National Institute of Women, INMUJERES, Mexico), Paula Narvaez (Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations), Leonor Zalabata Torres (Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations), Paola Prestini (Composer and Advocate), and the evening’s moderator Belen Sanz (UN Women Representative in Mexico).

“Con Alma” featured a fusion of jazz, classical music, crowdsourced messages, and visual art inspired by the Generation Equality Forum’s CSW67. It embodied soulful creations and engaging artistic activism as a tribute to the resilience and power of women and youth-led movements created during the pandemic, making a positive difference in our world today.

Illuminating Voices

“Thrush Song,” by Prestini, featured young women from the Young People’s Chorus of NYC and the voice of Magos Herrera. The chorus members sang with a bright and crisp tone that uplifted the hearts of listeners. Their smiles and sparkling eyes illuminated a hopeful message of peace and awareness. Visual artist Kevork Mourad created live work on the projection screen above them, with abstract images of people gathering and moving in ethereal forms. The singers’ voices resonated within the walls of the UN’s Trusteeship Chamber, and Herrera joined them, performing spoken word. “Thrush Song” was the opening piece, and it was beautiful.

A video of Iliana Quiroz from Mexico was shown next. Quiroz’s voice could be heard as she sang to listeners from her home. This was part of “Con Alma’s” crowdsourced message archives from the pandemic, documenting isolation and solidarity through the human voice. Audience members watched the screen as Quiroz represented a moment in time that resonated with everyone. Her voice became the voice of all at this moment. Videos played throughout the evening, similar to Quiroz’s, featuring Alejandra Foerg, Tanatiuah Rodriquez, and many others from all over.

Fratres,” by Prestini, was featured next, and the Sjaella Vocal Ensemble from Germany joined Herrera. The dissonances of this piece, in particular, were absolutely stunning. Singers alternated their voices between straight tones, warm vibrato, and baroque ornamentations. The Sjaella Vocal Ensemble and Herrera did an excellent job as they created this piece’s mysterious and haunting feeling. Herrera’s voice was grounded in deep and contemplative resonance as Kevork Mourad’s otherworldly visuals came to life. 

“La creación de las aves,” by Herrera, featured guitarist Vinicius Gomes, cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, and percussionist Gonzalo Grau. This song was full of life and warmth. Herrera’s voice was intensely soulful, and the instrumentalists were noticeably enjoying playing. Audience members were seen smiling and embracing the reality of this extraordinarily special performance. 

Transcending Together

Death of Classical was created in 2020 by Andrew Ousley and is known for coordinating unique and thoughtful live performances that transcend one’s imagination about where music can be enjoyed, especially classical music and opera. Ousley’s vision and remarkable community-building efforts engage audiences with art and one another in a seamless process that cannot be matched. OperaWire has covered Death of Classical events before, but somehow this one felt truly off the charts. Audience members were noticeably moved throughout “Con Alma”; historically speaking, this was a vital moment that activated peace as a universal way forward. The pure voices of our youth alone brought tears to listeners’ eyes.

“Alma Muerta,” by Prestini, reveled in the whispers and magic of the Sjaella Vocal Ensemble and Herrera’s voice. This song was gut-wrenchingly emotional, like a vapor lifting and evolving in transparency. The dissonances, harmonies, and overall tonal palette of “Alma Muerta” paired perfectly with Mourad’s brilliant and colorful visuals. The bleeding and blending of bright orange, green, yellow, and blue were breathtaking. The moment was unforgettable.

“Rojo Soul,” by Herrera, and “Cucurrucucu,” by Tomas Mendez, transitioned listeners into a fresh world of Herrera’s expressive voice. She danced, grooved, and freely moved about in the luscious jazz atmosphere. Herrera wore a white dress and headpiece that captured the lights and her movements. She was truly angelic. 

“I Celebrate Myself,” by Prestini, highlighted the Young People’s Chorus (YPC) of NYC and brought the attention of audience members to a thoughtful video showcasing the young women’s faces. YPC’s Artistic Director, Francisco J. Núñez gracefully conducted the ensemble as every face in the video was rich with awareness towards our future. 

Paola Prestini’s “Tree of 40 Fruit” featured layered female vocals, guitar, and cello. This choral work was unique in that it told the story of an unfolding: the soul unfolds as it evolves. The abstract vocals and sounds that Prestini highlighted in this piece, along with Jeffrey Zeigler playing cello, were outstanding. The audience applauded in excitement and admiration for this work.   

Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma,” featuring Herrera’s vocals, was light and playful. The musicians especially had fun with this piece. “Healer,” by Herrera, Vinicius Gomes, and Gonzalo Grau closed the ceremony and was definitely worth the wait. Herrera’s voice developed into a rich and vibrant palette that sparkled with every note. This evening was just the healing many of us are seeking —the healing power of soulful art and engaging creative activism.   



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