Written By Sason Bishope Parry
For years, the Dia De Los Muertos has been a Mexican celebration, usually taking place on November 1 & 2, as families get together to honour, rejoice, and reflect on their past loved ones. It’s a day of celebration that teaches us not to fear death and to celebrate life. That was the scene and vibe at Davies Symphony Hall on Saturday, November 4th, as the SF Symphony staged its 16th Día De Los Muertos concert and celebration. Families and friends of all colours and from all over the Bay Area, some even further gathered to be part of the festive holiday and pay homage to the Latino community.
Although the holiday is a Mexican-based tradition for me, I believe everyone should celebrate their past loved ones, and what a great way to pay respects than at a gathering that includes San Francisco’s best orchestra.
Patrons were lined up down the block to get into the hall, and many came in their best skeleton makeup and costumes. Some with just their faces painted and others with full-on cultural and vibrant outfits, that was a spectacle in itself. Although many Mexicans are quick to separate Dia De Los Muertos from Halloween, I still felt the Halloween spirit lingering with all the fantastic outfits. The entire hall and all floors were beautifully decorated from weeks prior, with unique installations and altars created by local artists to honour the deceased.
The installs were curated by the inspiring and very talented Martha Rodríguez-Salazar, who has been curating the event since 2008 with the aim each year of commemorating the Day of the Dead and connecting all of us through expressions of shared human experiences. There is no question that you could feel the energy and spirit from all attendees and those quite possibly from the afterlife. This year, Martha chose the theme Día de los Muertos in the Maya World to honour the traditions of the inhabitants of the Maya region and the way their beliefs have shaped their understanding of death as part of their daily lives.
It was nice to see fans arrive early and take in all the festivities and attractions that were going on. Skulls made of chocolate and sugar were available for fans to indulge in and were traditionally given as gifts to the deceased. Once the concert bells rang, everyone was ushered to their seat as conductor Miguel Harth–Badoya and the amazing symphony took the stage. Behind the stage in the balcony section was an entire section of people dressed in colourful skeletons of all sizes. It looked like a scene from the animated film, “Coco.” Bedoya was full of life and energy, speaking to fans in both Spanish and English.
He was precise and elegant in guiding our favourite orchestra through musical arrangements by some of Latin music’s most prominent artists and composers, including Grammy-nominated Brazilian composer, pianist, and singer Clarice Assad, Mexican composer Arturo Marquez, Chilean composer Alfonzo Leng and San Francisco’s own Arturo Rodriguez. Bedoya did a fantastic job bringing these beautiful compositions to life and telling fans why they were selected for this celebration.
However, the highlight came when the incredible and charismatic Portland-based Mexican singer/songwriter and guitarist Edna Vasquez took the stage. She looked elegant and enchanting, holding her beautiful guitar, and the moment she strummed a few strings, fans were on their feet as her fearless and powerful voice lit up the room. Her musical talent transcended all the boundaries of language.
Singing entirely in Spanish, even those who didn’t understand the lyrics could still feel the emotion in each song. Her vocal range was phenomenal as she sang so effortlessly in even her highest register that could easily match many opera singers. It was nice to see her connect to the audience, many of whom were clearly diehard fans, as they screamed her name and approvals. I had never heard her music before, but I was captivated by her fusion of styles from traditional Mexican to rock, pop, and other genres that she seamlessly crossed. It is evident that she had a deep connection to the holiday and her own roots, growing up in Jalisco, Mexico, where she found her passion for music and its power to heal and bring people together. She ended her set with a huge standing ovation, wishing everyone well on their journey.
It seemed like the healing power of music was a key focus and topic as Bedoya took the stage and said, “Music brings us together, does it not.” He then guided the orchestra through a last few compositions as the aisles were full of cultural performers and dancers on both sides, bringing the celebration to its closing climax. It was an incredible celebration of life, love, and reflection as we all stood for the final ovation. As we slowly made our way into the crowded hallways, I looked at my grandmother’s tattoo on my hand and smiled, knowing that she was there with us and, I’m sure, approved.
For more info on the SF Symphony go to: sfsymphony.org