UnidosNow, a local nonprofit that works to empower the Hispanic and Latino community, is holding NocheUnidos, a two-day fundraising extravaganza, next week, with a musical lineup that stretches from mariachi to classical. Both Mariachi Cobre, a 51-year-old group from Tuscon, Arizona, and the Venice Symphony, a 72-person orchestra, will perform at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 20, and at the Venice Institute for Performing Arts at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 21.
The groups will be conducted by Michelle Merrill, musical director of The Coastal Symphony of Georgia. Her musical journey started in high school as a drum major, and she has been involved with music ever since. She was personally requested by Mariachi Cobre to conduct NocheUnidos due to her vibrant performances, her passion and her time working with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra.
"The first half of the concert will be traditional for the symphony orchestra, then the second half has Mariachi Cobre steal the show," says Merrill. "There will be 60 pieces in total, so a focus on the different instruments and the sounds that they are making."
Mariachi Cobre is well known for its memorable performances at EPCOT's Mexico Pavilion since 1982. The group has performed for millions of people, not only at the Disney park, but also by touring with artists from other genres, like the Mexican-American singer, Vikki Carr. Mariachi Cobre will play alongside the Venice Symphony, made up of musicians led by music director Troy Quinn.
"Music has always been my favorite thing. The power of music, human spirit, the psyche involved and its healing power connects people," says Merrill. "I hope that the audience is really satisfied by the end of the concert. A lot of people think they don't like these types of styles, but music comes alive when you are hearing live music. It's a great cause, not just great music."
All funds raised during NocheUnidos will go to UnidosNow programs that provide resources for academic success for primarily low-income students. The event is also intended to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the founding of UnidosNow, even though the organization is 12 years old. The Covid-19 pandemic delayed earlier plans for a celebration.
In a press release, UnidosNow board chair and former Sarasota City Commissioner Kelly Kirschner calls the concerts a "metaphor [for] UnidosNow's work in the region over the past 12 years."
"We seek to present an alternative to the xenophobia that is too common in our state and nation in 2022, in particular as it relates to immigrants from Latin America," says Kirschner. "The combination of these musical groups together not only creates an amazingly rich sound. The two build upon one another in an additive way that is symbolic of how immigration is not a zero-sum game."
NocheUnidos takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 20, at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, and at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, at the Venice Institute for Performing Arts, 1 Indian Ave., Venice. Tickets are $30-$120.