Davies Hall transforms into a holy centre for 12th annual Dia de Los Muertos Celebration

No matter what sect or religion you associate yourself with, it’s a universal given to pay respect and homage to those who have touched our lives and parted ways to the ethers. Whether you honour the dead by hanging a picture of them on your wall or visit a cemetery from time to time, it’s hard to live in San Francisco and not participate in the Dia de Los Muertos events around town. Not only has the celebration become part of the SF fabric, but it should also be an observed holiday to let people celebrate all the souls who have built this City – lest we forget California was once part of Mexico. Dia de Los Muertos is an integral cultural celebration in Mexico and many parts of South America dating back to the Aztec Empire. I’m personally thrilled to see the increased amount of cities in the U.S with significant Hispanic populations celebrating the day(s).

The one caveat – oftentimes, many North Americans (gringos) still misunderstand Dia de Los Muertos as a variation of Halloween, but it is a very different celebration. The holiday takes place on November 1 and 2, coinciding with the Roman Catholic practices of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, respectively. In Spanish, All Saints’ Day is known as the Dia de Todos Los Santos and All Souls’ Day as the Dia de las Animas. Together, the two dates are conceptualized as the Dia de Los Difuntos or, more commonly, as the Dia de Los Muertos. For those who celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, the first day is reserved for recognizing young children who have passed away while the second day is meant to honour all others.

One of the beautiful aspects of Latin culture is that death is celebrated as a natural and normal part of life. This year, many families and communities gathered at SF’s Potrero Del Sol Park, showcasing altars filled with brightly coloured flowers, sugar skulls, pictures of the deceased, and favourite foods. All of this is done as a way of inviting the spirits of our loved ones back to visit with us for one day out of the year. Before my daughter and I embarked on the festivities in the Mission District SF, we thought it would be extra special to attend the 12th annual Dia de Los Muertos Community Celebration on November 2, 2019, at Davies Symphony Hall.

Once again, the team from the San Francisco Symphony did a magnificent job in transforming Davies Hall into a sacred shrine, gathering a diverse audience that ranged from young toddlers (my 2.5-year-old daughter included) to the classy, yet spunky septuagenarians. I cannot give enough praise to the charismatic host of the night, Jacomo Bairos. He took command of his orchestra, and, with godly musicianship, the audience was seamlessly transported on a celestial journey to the afterworld. The harmonious melodies from masterpieces like Gould – Rhumba / Conga from Latin American Symphonette, Silvestre Revueltas – Janitzio, Gabriela Lena Frank – Requiem for a Magical America, and Copeland – El Salon Mexico, set the stage for a euphoric, South American musical landscape to relish. But wait aren’t you supposed to be calling upon the deceased to visit you on Day of the Dead?

After intermission, Jacomo Bairos introduced Latin Grammy Best New Artist winner, and internationally renowned Latin American band, Monsieur Perine. This served as a brilliant role reversal move by the conductor, as the whole ensemble, including the SF Symphony orchestra, began to pour out prayers to dazzle the souls back down to Davies Hall. While cheers and wows were circulating in the crowd, members of Casa Circulo Cultural Dance Ensemble promenaded the aisles, dressed in colourful, culturally expressive attire. The energy was so intoxicating, that even my 2.5-year-old sat in awe, and gladly clapped after each set – WOW!

The SF Symphony hosts many elaborate events during the year, but this was a special one. From the decorations in the lobby to the musical pilgrimage, this performance holds a place in my heart/soul and has become the newest annual benchmark of one-of-a-kind events to return to again and again.

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From one yogi to another, I bow to the exceptional performance by Jacomo Bairos. His aura gleamed so brightly that every seat in the house was deeply moved by his piercing passion for the craft. If the Dalai Lama or any high-level Saint had been seated in the audience, they would have stood up to applaud, bowing in honour.

For more info on the SF Symphony go to: www.sfsymphony.org