World premiere of “Meet Me for Noche Buena”

Meet Me for Noche Buena (2022)
Saunder Choi (b. 1988) TEXT: AILEEN CASSINETTO
Maria Cristina Navarro, soloist

Robert Istad conducts the world premiere of the Pacific Chorale-commissioned “Meet Me for Noche Buena” by noted LA-based Filipino composer Saunder Choi, a tenor in the chorus whose work has been described as “fresh and earnest” (San Francisco Classical Voice). From Grammy-winning Pacific Chorale’s “Carols by Candlelight” concert on December 3, 2022, at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church Newport Beach.

This was my first collaboration with noted Filipino composer Saunder Choi. I’m so honored to have worked with Saunder, and really grateful for his guidance especially since lyric writing, unlike poetry, depends heavily on end rhymes and refrains! Our next collaboration, “Wide American Earth,” will premiere at Carnegie Hall in June!


Growing up, a paról (Filipino Christmas lantern) was both a familiar and expected sight during the holidays — hanging by windows, attached to street lamps, all around malls and other public spaces, in the zeitgeist of every Filipino. They can be as simple as ones crafted from bamboo and colorful Japanese paper, or as elaborate as those made from capiz shells and even LED lights. Aileen’s poetry paints a joyous, nostalgic, and colorful picture of Noche Buena — a Christmas Eve celebration shared amongst Spanish colonized countries. The ubiquitous Philippine star lantern forges a link between past and present. It symbolizes the transfer of tradition from one place to another, bringing along with it other holiday traditions like bibingka (a traditional baked rice cake) and queso de bola (a ball of red Edam cheese) — because is it even a Filipino gathering without tons of food? 

In the middle of this new carol, as we “sing our favorite Christmas songs,” I took the opportunity to quote one of my favorite ones while growing up — Payapang Daigdig | Peaceful World by Felipe De Leon — our version of “Silent Night.” I specifically included the phrase sa bughaw na langit | in blue sky because it is an image that is shared amongst cultures no matter where you are. 

At its heart, Meet Me for Noche Buena is really about journeys and relationships; people bringing and sharing their various holiday traditions in new places — whether you’re an American in Japan, an Italian in Argentina, or, like Aileen and myself, Filipino immigrants who have found a home in California.

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