going baroque in cuenca

Mozart sounds divine

Mozart sounds divine

A mass by Mozart, performed by the University of Cuenca Symphony, sounds phenomenal in the Old Cathedral.

To me, the evening started out a bit shaky. To my untrained ears, the orchestra wasn’t quite coming together on the opening piece. I feared we were in for a long performance. But on the completion of the first two works, our night at the symphony was elevated into an entirely different realm. The small, what seemed to be, chamber orchestra exited left and members of the University of Cuenca Symphony orchestra took their places.

I felt a bit underdressed as I watched the parade of formally attired sopranos, altos, tenors and basses proceed to the front of the sanctuary. Four guest soloists took their places near the conductor. The audience grew quiet. The maestro nodded and the Coronation Mass (Mozart K. 317) began.

Before the concert began, David told me Mozart wrote this piece to be performed in such a setting. And for the next forty minutes, I sat transfixed listening to a masterpiece of praise, majesty, adoration, celebration and worship.

Built in late 1500s

Built in late 1500s and renovated in 1990s

The Old Cathedral was built in the late 1500’s and renovated in the late 1900s. In this vast hall hundreds of us listened to and were uplifted by a work composed four hundred or more years ago. Both cathedral and music were close the same age. We were the newcomers.

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Ceiling of the Old Cathedral

The Old Cathedral sits on one side of Parque de Calderon at the heart of El Centro and the New Cathedral sits directly opposite it. Originally called The Church of the Shrine, the aging white basilica was the main place of worship during the time of Spanish colonization in Cuenca. Only Spaniards could worship inside. The indigenous people who had converted to Catholicism were forced to worship outside. As the faith grew, the baroque structure was too small for the converts. The New Cathedral was started in 1885 to replace the Catedral Vieja de Cuenca. Construction wasn’t completed until 1967. Today the older structure serves as the city’s Museum for Religious Art.

The University Symphony, considered one of the premier symphonies in Ecuador, performs here regularly and without charge to the public. Equal opportunity enrichment.  Another great thing about this small amazing country.

Interior of Old Cathedral

Interior of Old Cathedral

Teenagers in the audience took endless selfies against the backdrop of rare pieces of art. Elderly men and women, dressed up for the evening out, sat next to wild-haired backpackers who had dropped in for a bit of culture. Locals and expats rubbed shoulders. Parents and grandparents tried to still very restless children who resented their confined spaces. Row after row of chairs crowded together, filling the hall. And unlike high-brow activities in the USA where attendees sit still in their seats during the performance, men and women roamed casually up and down the side aisles. Some in search of better seating, some to relax their legs, others to take photographs.  No disrespect intended or taken it seems.  It’s just part of the laid back lifestyle and experience.

David and I walked home after the concert, along with dozens of others preferring to go on foot rather than take the taxi or one of the many city buses.  The night was quiet. The cobbled streets almost empty. Except for the car horns and street lights, we could easily have been back in the early days of the city.  Leaving the Spanish church in a newly settled city listening to a master musician from Europe.

Have I said how much I love this place?


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