Music

Ensemble dedicated to Latin American composers builds musical bridges in Boston

Conductor Lina Gonzalez-Granados at the Egleston Square branch of the Boston Public Library, where she will perform.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Conductor Lina Gonzalez-Granados at the Egleston Square branch of the Boston Public Library, where she will perform.

Conductor Lina Gonzalez-Granados, who grew up in Colombia, was drawn to the United States for its cultural diversity. But while studying at New England Conservatory, the conductor noticed that Boston, which has a swiftly growing Latino population, did not have an ensemble dedicated to music of Latin American composers.

She founded Unitas Ensemble in 2014 with the goal of bringing that music to a wider audience. This Saturday, a quartet of Unitas string players will present a free concert at the Egleston Square branch of the Boston Public Library, with artistic director Gonzalez-Granados as emcee and host. 

The concert is presented as part of the Boston Philharmonic’s MOSAIC outreach initiative, which began hosting concerts in BPL branches last fall. According to Unitas executive director Andrew Moreschi, who is married to Gonzalez-Granados, 12 branches requested Unitas’s program of music by Latina composers. This Saturday will mark Unitas’s seventh MOSAIC appearance. 

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The ensemble’s mission fit well with that of MOSAIC. “We wanted to be able to play music that was tailored and fit to the needs of the community,” said Derek Beckvold, the Boston Philharmonic’s education and community engagement manager.

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And the program’s popularity proved to Gonzalez-Granados that her effort to make Unitas more than just an orchestra was working. “[The music is] a way to connect and a way to be empathetic. I don’t want to get too political, but we talk about walls, and isolation, and separation, and Boston is not about that,” she said.

On Saturday, the quartet will perform music by Colombian composer Paola Marquez, whose Unitas commission “Don Gato” was premiered earlier this season; Gabriela Lena Frank, an American of Chinese and Peruvian descent who drew on Andean music to compose “Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout;” and Teresa Carreño, a 19th-century Venezuelan virtuoso pianist and composer who performed for Abraham Lincoln at the White House.

Carreño’s Serenade for string orchestra almost didn’t receive its Boston premiere at Unitas’s concert earlier this month. Three minutes before downbeat at Unitas’s final rehearsal at the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts earlier this month, the conductor was informed that the entertainment license for the evening had been revoked. The news was a shock. The ensemble had performed at Villa Victoria in the past, she said, and there had been no indication the building’s ongoing renovations would affect the performance. 

She considered the day’s brisk weather, and then she thought about what would be lost. “For me it was about not only the musicians, but we had kids from Somerville, from El Sistema, coming to the concert. All these big premieres waiting to happen,’ she said. 

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So while the ensemble rehearsed, lights, sound, and chairs were moved outside to the adjacent O’Day Park. Gonzalez-Granados told the musicians that if the weather became too difficult, the concert would be cut short. The temperature dropped into the 50s during the concert, and the conductor decided to omit the last piece, but when the musicians requested to send the audience off with just one movement, she couldn’t say no. 

The public response was excellent, Gonzalez-Granados said, but she was “super bummed about the concert not being inside, because some of the pieces need it.” But right after the concert, a friend told her about a young girl who came over from the nearby playground and was excited to see a composer on the program who shared her name, Lucía. “So I thought OK, it was worth it,” she said. “Then the kid approached me, like ‘Oh, I didn’t know women could be composers!’ She felt represented. She felt like her voice mattered.”

UNITAS ENSEMBLE

At Boston Public Library, Egleston Square branch. Saturday, noon. Free.

Zoë Madonna can be reached at zoe.madonna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.