Oct 12, 2023
Click here to access the Online Press Kit, which includes PDFs of this press release in English and Spanish, artist headshots, and images from past SF Symphony Día de los Muertos celebrations.
SAN FRANCISCO—The San Francisco Symphony presents its 16th annual Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration at Davies Symphony Hall on Saturday, November 4. The event features a concert program of traditional and contemporary Latin American music, preceded by a festive array of family-friendly activities and followed by the ¡Fiesta! Día de los Muertos fundraiser.
Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducts the San Francisco Symphony in the concert program, which includes music by Clarice Assad, Arturo Márquez, Alfonso Leng, Silvestre Revueltas, and Arturo Rodríguez. Vocalist Edna Vázquez also joins the Symphony to perform a selection of songs. Dancers from Casa Círculo Cultural and performers from Canción de Obsidiana are featured throughout the concert.
Every year leading up to the Symphony’s Day of the Dead celebration, the lobbies of Davies Symphony Hall are transformed with immersive art installations and altars built by local artists to honor the living and the deceased. Curated by longtime SF Symphony collaborator Martha Rodríguez-Salazar, this year’s celebration features music, art, and activities relating to Maya culture. Guests are encouraged to arrive early to enjoy the installations, family activities, sugar skulls, and live marimba music. Everyone is invited to leave messages on the interactive altar.
Tickets can be purchased online at SFSymphony.org/Dia, by calling the SF Symphony box office at 415.864.6000, or by visiting the box office located on Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street.
The Día de los Muertos Concert is presented in partnership with the San Francisco Arts Commission. ¡Fiesta! Día de los Muertos presenting sponsors include Alexander’s Steakhouse Group, Pamela Rummage Culp, and Sharon & David Seto.
DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS CONCERT
Casa Círculo Cultural opens the Día de los Muertos concert at 2pm with a procession that represents the Popol Vuh, the story of the creation of the Maya. The dancers will be accompanied by Canción de Obsidiana performing on pre-Hispanic instruments. Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya then takes the stage with the San Francisco Symphony, conducting selections from La noche de los Mayas by Silvestre Revueltas. Rounding out the first half are Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No. 2 and Alfonso Leng’s Preludio No. 1. After intermission, Harth-Bedoya conducts Clarice Assad’s Bonecos de Olinda, after which vocalist Edna Vázquez joins Harth-Bedoya and the Symphony in performing Osvaldo Farres’ Quizás, quizás, quizás; Vivir Quintana’s Canción sin miedo; and three original songs: Ixim Ixoq, Sana, and Sola Soy. The program closes with Arturo Rodríguez’s Mosaico Mexicano. Dancers from Casa Círculo Cultural are featured throughout the concert, adding to the immersive experience.
Canción de Obsidiana was created in 1989 by its director, Victor-Mario Zaballa. The ensemble strives to create an atmospheric landscape of timeless sounds with original compositions incorporating traditional Mexican hand-made acoustic indigenous instruments and electronic musical instruments. The wind and percussion instruments are replicas of pre-Columbian pieces from museum collections made by Mr. Zaballa. The ensemble has performed at Lincoln Center, Theater of the New City in New York, deYoung Museum, Mexican Museum, Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, The Lab in San Francisco, Monterey World Music Festival, Tucson Museum of Art, and Oakland Museum.
Miguel Harth-Bedoya recently completed seven years as chief conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and 21 years as music director of the Fort Worth Symphony where he continues as music director laureate. He was previously music director of the Auckland Philharmonia and Eugene Symphony. Harth-Bedoya regularly appears with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic, and Sydney Symphony. Recent engagements include the New Zealand Symphony, BBC Scottish Symphony, Munich Philharmonic, Dresden Philharmonic, Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra, Danish National Symphony, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, NHK Symphony, and Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony. He makes his San Francisco Symphony debut with this concert.
Edna Vázquez is a fearless singer, songwriter, composer, and guitarist whose powerful voice and musical talent transcend the boundaries of language to engage and uplift her audience. She is a creative musical artist with a vocal range that allows her to paint seamlessly with her original material, an intersection of Mexican tradicional, rock, pop and other genres. Vázquez’s passion for music and performance grew from her bicultural roots and, with songs deeply rooted in universal human emotion, she has traveled far and wide spreading her message of light, love and cultural healing.
Born in Mexico City and trained as a flutist and opera singer, Martha Rodríguez-Salazar is a curator, teacher, choir director, producer, and director of musical and theater productions that celebrate Latin-American culture in the Bay Area. She teaches at the Community Music Center and Mariachi Program at the San Francisco Unified School District and has curated the San Francisco Symphony’s Día de los Muertos Concert since 2008.
Voz de mi Pueblo is a Guatemalan marimba group directed by Jaime Ortiz, who founded the ensemble in 2015. The musicians are from Todos Santos Cuchumatán in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, and their instrument was brought from Guatemala.
FAMILY-FRIENDLY LOBBY ACTIVITIES
Beginning at 12:45pm on November 4, guests can enjoy art and activities in the colorfully decorated Davies Symphony Hall lobbies. Attendees will be greeted by and have an opportunity to take photos with catrines and catrinas, the iconic image of Día de los Muertos celebrations, presented by Casa Círculo Cultural’s live performers. Voz de mi Pueblo, a Guatemalan marimba group, will also perform outside Davies Symphony Hall prior to the concert. Bay Area artist Irma Ortiz will demonstrate her process of creating decorated sugar skulls in an interactive exhibit and will have sugar skull decorating activities for children. The Mexican Museum will have a barrilete (kite) making activity for the whole family to enjoy, and artists from Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts will provide a screenprinting activity for families. Bilingual docents stationed at each altar and installation will help guide and immerse the audience in the holiday’s rich cultural traditions.
¡FIESTA! DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS RECEPTION & DINNER
The ¡Fiesta! Día de los Muertos fundraising event, held by the SF Symphony’s San Francisco League and chaired by Sharon Seto, follows the concert at the spacious Presidio Golf Course & Clubhouse. Ticket packages include premium seating at the concert followed by a lively cocktail reception, seated dinner, performances, auction, and tasting station hosted by Salvadores Mezcal. Presenting sponsors of ¡Fiesta! Día de los Muertos are Alexander’s Steakhouse Group, Pamela Rummage Culp, and Sharon & David Seto.
Packages start at $350 and can be purchased online at sfsymphony.org/DiaFiesta or by phone at 415.503.5351. Proceeds from the event support the San Francisco Symphony and its artistic, community, and education programs.
IMMERSIVE LOBBY ART
Art installations and altars built by local artists honor the living and the deceased. Curated by Martha Rodríguez-Salazar, this year’s installations feature works by artists Fernando Escartiz, Susan Matthews, Florentin Sulá Sulá, and Victor-Mario Zaballa; and organizations Casa Círculo Cultural, the Mexican Museum, and Mujeres Unidas y Activas.
Casa Círculo Cultural decorates Davies Symphony Hall windows with Journey to Xibalbá, a gigantic canoe depicting the Paddler Gods of Maya culture. The canoe represents the Milky Way, and the passengers represent the constellations. Casa Círculo Cultural also presents colorful barriletes, which are created by young students and displayed on the windows of the orchestra level and in a photo op on the first tier.
Mexican sculptor Fernando Escartiz brings three of his pieces to the Davies Symphony Hall lobbies. Orchestra in the Maya Universe is an installation featuring papier-mâché figures of San Francisco Symphony musicians, Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, and soloist Edna Vázquez. The Great Arch, inspired by the sarcophagus lid of Pakal, is an arch over the stairway from the Orchestra level to the First Tier, and depicts the Maya king Pakal whose sarcophagus was discovered in Palenque, Mexico. In the piece, Pakal is being reborn, emerging from a maize seed. Escartiz’s replica of Pakal Mask, displayed in a window in the first tier, is inspired by the jade mask that was covering Pakal’s face when his sarcophagus was found.
Susan Matthews presents Offerings for Chaac, an interactive altar that features important elements of Maya culture, including corn, cenotes (natural sinkholes), quetzals, and the feathered serpent deity Kukulkan. Guests are invited to write messages to Chaac as an offering.
The Mexican Museum displays Choo Ba’ak, a Mayan Tradition, an installation that simulates ossuaries in a cemetery during a traditional Choo Ba’ak celebration, when villagers honor their deceased with a ceremony for cleaning the bones of the departed and arranging them in hand-embroidered linens that are generally decorated with angels, flowers, and the name of the deceased. The tradition takes place October 26 to November 2.
Mujeres Unidas y Activas presents an Indigenous Mam Altar in memory of grandparents who have passed on. The altar includes textiles, stories, drawings, photographs, and items from Mam communities from four different regions in Guatemala. The Mam are an indigenous Maya people who live in southwestern Guatemala and, across the Mexican border, in extreme southeastern Chiapas.
Florentin Sulá Sulá brings Barrilete Nahual No’j, a colorful, intricate barrilete that is 12 feet in diameter and made especially for the Guatemalan celebration of Día de los Muertos.
Victor-Mario Zaballa presents B’alam Malax / Jaguar Butterfly, a barrilete that is eight feet in diameter and made with paper, bamboo, wood, glue, and string. The geometric patterned kite will be displayed in one of the windows of the First Tier.
Sculptor Fernando Escartiz was born in Mexico City and became involved in the arts early in his childhood. An assistant and student of Enrique Miralda, Mr. Escartiz is also influenced by his late friend, Mexican sculptor Fernando Pereznieto. He enjoys traveling and encountering new textures, colors, forms, and feelings, all of which influence his work as a sculptor, painter, and stage designer. Mr. Escartiz is a member of the nonprofit Casa Círculo Cultural, where he teaches art classes and works for various events in Northern California. He is also the founder of Escartiz Studio, an artists’ collective that has been creating public art for the community for the past three years.
Susan Matthews was born in Tucson, Arizona, and grew up in Oakland. She graduated from University of California, Berkeley, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in drawing and painting, and from San Francisco State University with a Master of Fine Arts in painting. She has exhibited throughout California, as well as in Nevada, Alaska, Cuba, Ghana, and Senegal. She has made a large body of work about Cuban music and dance and its continuity with African traditional sources. She participated in a long-term collaborative artist’s multimedia research project called Secrets Under the Skin, which directly connected communities in Ghana, Togo, and Cuba. Ms. Matthews was invited to exhibit in the Dak’Art Biennale in Dakar, Senegal, in 2016 and 2018, and she currently teaches acrylic and watercolor painting at College of San Mateo.
Sugar-skull artist Irma Ortiz was born in the state of Querétaro, Mexico. She has been a Bay Area resident for more than 30 years. Her family has maintained traditional arts and crafts for many generations, and she learned from them the art of making sugar skulls and altars for Día de los Muertos. She enjoys demonstrating what she knows of her culture and has passed on her craft to her daughters and grandchildren. Ms. Ortiz has been showing her art at the San Francisco Symphony’s Día de los Muertos celebrations since 2011.
Florentin Sulá Sulá is a barrilete (kite) artist from Sumpango, Sacatepéquez, in Guatemala. He learned his craft from his grandfather who taught him how to make barriletes at seven years old, when he dreamed of creating the traditional enormous Guatemalan kites after going to a festival. Since then, he has created barriletes every year for Día de los Muertos. His wife and three daughters help him with making the kites.
Victor-Mario Zaballa is a Mexican artist and art historian based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His involvement with traditional arts and altar making began during the 1960s, learning from his grandmother and great aunts, who were artisans of cartonería (papier mâché) and chocolate making. The foundations of his work are taken from the living elements of the Indigenous folk, pre-Hispanic art, and Mexican oral traditions he grew up with, in combination with contemporary mediums, such as photography, film, and acoustic and electronic instrument-making. Since 1972 he has explored visual and performing arts, including large-scale permanent public art projects at the 16th St. Mission BART station; Visitacion Valley Club House in San Francisco; Sacramento’s Capitol Garage; San Jose’s Mexican Heritage Plaza; and train stations in Michigan, Arizona, and Washington. His work has been exhibited at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, deYoung Museum, Academy of Sciences, the Lab, Monterey Museum of Art, Tucson Museum of Art, M.A.R.S. Artspace in Arizona, Triton Museum in Santa Clara, and Euphrat Museum in Cupertino.
Casa Círculo Cultural of Redwood City, California, is a grassroots multidisciplinary arts organization dedicated to creating cultural programming reflective of the experiences of the Latino communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since its inception in May 2009, it has established, produced, and presented theater, concerts, television programs, painting, sculpture, photography, taekwondo, creative writing, music classes, and, most recently, a community radio station. Casa Círculo Cultural provides a focus on creativity for underserved Latino youth and adults while promoting leadership development for both. The organization believes that social change is best achieved through collaboration, community empowerment, and civic engagement.
The Mexican Museum was founded in 1975 in San Francisco by Chicano artist Peter Rodriguez with the purpose of creating a US institution where the aesthetic expression of the Mexican, Mexican-American, and Latin-American population would be represented. Since its inception, the museum has expanded its vision to reflect the evolution of the Mexican, Chicano, and Latinx experience in the United States. A Smithsonian Affiliate since 2011, the Mexican Museum tells a common story from many countries and cultures from across the Americas: a tale of hope, expansion, redefined borders, economy, and spirituality. It is a shared history of emotions and opportunities manifested through myriad objects and symbols. The Mexican Museum is about connection, reflection, enjoyment, and knowledge of all that we share, and is a device for building bridges, reducing distances, and conceptually outlining a new pan-Americanism.
The Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts was established in 1977 by artists and community activists with a shared vision to promote, preserve, and develop the cultural arts that reflect the living tradition and experiences of the Chicano, Central American, South American, and Caribbean people, and to make arts accessible as an essential element to community development and well-being. MCCLA is a multicultural and multidisciplinary arts organization committed to the collaborative artistic vision of Latino art forms. It provides the community with an arena to develop new artistic skills; supports local and established artists that serve their community; and collaborates with other arts, social, and humanitarian groups to provide the widest range of programming possible.
Mujeres Unidas y Activas is a nonprofit organization established in 1989-90 to provide a safe haven for victims of family violence and their children. Its mission is to provide shelter and support services to victims of domestic violence and survivors of sexual assault and their families, and to offer community education, awareness, and prevention programs. The agency now offers an array of services including rape crisis intervention, counseling, legal advocacy, and batterer’s intervention. MUA works with immigrant Latina & Indigenous women with the mission of growing their collective power and striving for social and economic justice to change the systems that oppresses them. Fostering personal transformation and increasing civic and political participation come hand in hand. MUA has always incorporated cultural practices into their work, including celebrating traditional Latin American holidays in ways that further their mission, including yearly Day of the Dead celebrations to mourn those they have lost.
The Voces Maya (Mayan Voices) team engages with Spanish and Mam-speaking communities at community events, churches, and schools to connect immigrant families with legal and social services resources. The trilingual team shares information and resources about workers’ rights, COVID-19 safety, preventing hate crimes, and “know your rights” in encounters with ICE. They recently won an ethnic media award for their weekly broadcasts in partnership with Radio B'alam, an Oakland-based Mam language radio station and Facebook page with 53,000 followers.
The Día de los Muertos Concert is presented in partnership with the San Francisco Arts Commission. The mission of The San Francisco Arts Commission is to invest in an arts community where all artists and cultural workers have the freedom, resources, and platform to share their stories, regardless of race. The San Francisco Arts Commission believes that art is critical to shaping neighborhoods and the urban environment and for fostering social change to confront and resolve the inequities of the past and present to move towards a more equitable future.
[To view the full bilingual press release, click on DOWNLOAD A PDF]