Sinfonietta’s “Dia de los Muertos”

Audience members embarked on a musical journey that traveled through the dark reaches of the human soul to a light and hopeful mood when the Chicago Sinfonietta presented its seventh annual Dia de los Muertos concert at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, October 31 at the Symphony Center (220 S. Michigan Ave.)

The program, which honors the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday, paired classical works with spooky silent films from the Chicago Film Archives.

Music Director and Conductor Mei-Ann Chen kicked off the evening in rousing style, leading the orchestra in “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” a homage to Chicago’s home team — the Cubs — standing in this year’s World Series.

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Sinfonietta Conductor Mei-Ann Chen (Nagarkatti)

Once the audience settled down, the annual favorite concert began with Golijov’s passionate “Last Round,” evocative of a fight for life in a losing battle, with two string quartets doing metaphorical battle with each other. This was followed by the overture to Beethoven’s tremendous “Coriolan,” which featured themes of life, death, and transcendence.

Next, darkness danced across the screen with the first of two silent films, provided by the Chicago Film Archives, shown to the accompaniment of the foreboding strains of an early version of version of “Night on Bald Mountain” (made famous by Disney’s Fantasia).

During the second half of the concert, the mood became more lighthearted, beginning with contemporary composer Carlos Rafael Rivera’s “Popol-Vuh,” a musical interpretation of an ancient Mayan creation story. The piece’s four movements progressed through a shifting soundscape tinged with sadness, but also hope.

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“Dia de los Muertos” audience members (Nagarkatti)

The second half continued with “Danse Macabre,” a jaunty work depicting skeletons and the spirits of the dead who come out to play on Halloween night. Death plays the fiddle, summoning the dead to dance. A 1922 silent film by the same name was presented with this piece, courtesy of the Chicago Film Archives. The film featured well-known Chicago dancer and choreographer Ruth Page in the role of “Love.”

The dance of life and death continued with the Chicago premiere of “PizziCuban Polka,” which started out with a plucked violin and riotously erupted into a celebratory mood familiar to anyone who has heard the mambo.

The concert ended with “Sones de Mariachi” by Blas Galindo, an upbeat tribute to indigenous Mexican folk songs.

Prior to the concert and during the intermission, the audience was invited to participate in several engagement activities relating to the evening’s theme. These included a costume contest for those in their finest Dia attire, masks, and a photo booth. Audience members also enjoyed face painting, marigold making, and an “ofrenda,” or altar, where people could celebrate their lost loved ones.

— Shanti Nagarkatti

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