Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Dia de Los Muertos at the Symphony

The second annual "Dia de Los Muertos Family Concert" was presented at Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday afternoon, and the program was unexpectedly wonderful.

The music was conducted by a charming and audience-friendly young woman from Mexico City named Alondra de la Parra (above) playing infrequently heard music by the Latin composers Revueltas, Moncayo, Marquez (Mexico), Ginastera (Argentina), and Gabriele Lena Frank (currently Peruvian, but born in Berkeley to a Peruvian/Chinese mother and Lithuanian Jewish father, which pretty much defines multicultural). From the evidence of this concert, de la Parra is quite a talent, and symphony management should consider inviting her back for a subscription concert.

Plus, it was delightful to see a woman on the podium for a change, not to mention an audience that seemed to be equal parts Latinos and gringos. The orchestra also played Saint-Saens' fourteen-movement "Carnival of the Animals" with two young Venezuelan piano soloists, Kristhyan Benitez and Ana Karina Alamo and a newly commissioned narration between each movement from the Mexican novelist Laura Esquivel, who wrote the internationally successful "Like Water for Chocolate."

Esquivel read the pieces dressed as Catrina, the dandified upper-class female representative of death. Her narration consisted of a series of "calaveras," satirical poems in Spanish that are a Mexican Day of the Dead tradition. Catrina brought death to the various animals in the Saint-Saens' carnival, with a few managing to escape with their lives because Catrina was transfixed by her own reflection (fish) or was afraid of being hit in the head (mules).

Though most of the kids were well-behaved throughout the concert, this piece turned out to be the most difficult for many of them, particularly if they didn't speak Spanish, because the supertitles went quickly and the humor of the poetry was fairly sophisticated.

The lobby areas were decorated with altars for the spirits of the dead...

...including the above installation by Sunny Harker of skeletons on bicycles with metal wings, with each feather inscribed with the name of a person who had died bicycling.

The musicians seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, including pianist Robin Sutherland (above) who was wearing an orange marigold in his ponytail. "Don't give an orange marigold to anybody in Mexico any time other than Dia de los Muertos," our conductor advised. "It won't be well received."

Before the concert, there were refreshments of hot chocolate and pan dulce, along with dancers from the Mission District's Mixcoatl Anahuac performing in the First Tier lobby.

It required some dexterity not to get poked in the eye by their long pheasant feathers that were flying in all directions.

My recently deceased mother was born and spent her childhood in Spain, but she often confessed that she really preferred Mexico and Mexicans. She also adored the ancient concept of Dia de los Muertos, so we once made a pilgramage to Lake Patzcuaro in the state of Michoacan where there is a famous tradition involving the Tarascan Indians rowing out to the island of Janitzio for an all-night fiesta for the spirits of the dead in the cemetery.

It's interesting to watch Dia de los Muertos bringing back "spirits" into the secular and commercialized Halloween tradition in the United States. So here's an ofrenda to Lucas Rebston (above), a fellow opera supernumerary who died a couple of months ago at age 53. He was an odd, ethereal character whose spirit was quite special. Hasta luego.


Your driver said...

Mike, another nice post. Loved the pictures and enjoyed your review. Wish I knew more about the music, but thank you for making me aware of it.

whabbear said...

Ditto what Jon said!

momo said...

A beautiful ofrenda to Lucas.

Unknown said...

This is a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing the experience.