The Chicago Sinfonietta continued its 2013-14 season of innovation and collaboration with Día de los Muertos, its annual holiday concert inspired by the Mexican holiday of The Day of the Dead. Sinfonietta Music Director Mei-Ann Chen with special guests, violinist Adé Williams, soprano Elizabeth Norman, the DePaul University Choir and collaborators Redmoon, lead a concert inspired by artistic expressions of grief and joy surrounding mortality.
The Chicago Sinfonietta performed el Día de los Muertos in two concerts: Nov. 9 at the Wentz Concert Hall of North Central College, 171 E. Chicago Avenue in Naperville, and on Nov. 11 at the Orchestra Hall of Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago.
Sinfonietta audiences had the chance to both hear and taste the creative offerings of Día de los Muertos, as wine producer Diseño presented three wine tastings to accompany the program: Ruffino Italian Prosecco, Diseño Argentinean Malbec and Anderra Chilean Carmenere. Each wine was specifically selected because of its relation, in region and/or heritage, to the works on the program. This multisensory aspect deepens the musical and cultural experience of the European and South American-inspired concert.
The first half of the Día de los Muertos concert draws from the traditionally European reaction to death and mortality, filled with somber drama and mournful melodies. With dramatic lighting to set the atmosphere, transforming the concert hall into a theater of sound and spectacle – an environment shaped by the creative forces of Chicago’s Spectacle-driven theater company Redmoon – the concert opened with “Preludio” and “Balada” from Grammy® Award-winning Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar (“Fountain of Tears”). The orchestra was joined by soprano Elizabeth Norman and the female voices of the DePaul University Choir. With a libretto in Spanish written by American playwright David Henry Hwang, Ainadamar tells the story of playwright Federico García Lorca and his opposition to, and subsequent murder by, the Spanish political party known as the Falange.
The full DePaul University Choir, heightening the drama with signature Redmoon masks, joinws their powerful voices with the orchestra for six sections of Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D minor, next on the program. Composed in Vienna in 1791 during the last years of Mozart’s life, Requiem abounds with gothic-style drama and soaring, poignant vocals in one of Mozart’s darkest, most powerful works.
The second half of the Sinfonietta’s Día de los Muertos concert shifted to the jubilant, festive celebrations of death common in Latin and Mexican culture. Sphinx alum and violin virtuoso Adé Williams joined the orchestra for Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas), four tangos arranged by Leonid Desyatnikov. Composed in 1965 and drawing inspiration from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Piazzolla’s work, originally composed as four separate pieces, colorfully evokes each season in Argentina’s largest city and capital.
Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat (El Sombrero de Tres Picos), Suite No. 2, completed the emotional journey. Originally composed as a two-act ballet for the Ballet Russe in 1919, de Falla infuses traditional Andalusian folk music into his score, where strings imitate guitars and the cheerful rhythms of dance shine through for an energetic, witty and bright work completing the Sinfonietta’s spectacular holiday concert.