Rodríguez: A Joyous Mexican Holiday

Rodríguez: A Joyous Mexican Holiday
© New England Conservatory of Music
On 3 December, music director Frank Epstein leads the New England Conservatory's Percussion Ensemble in the world premiere of Rodríguez's new work El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). Rodríguez calls the sextet "a musical evocation of the joyous Mexican folk celebration." It is the fourth premiere in NEC's Bradford and Dorothea Endicott Percussion Repertory Commissioning Series, which includes G. Schirmer/AMP commissionees Gunther Schuller (Grand Concerto for Percussion and Keyboards) and Joan Tower (DNA).

"The Mexican version of All Souls Day," Rodríguez explains, "has a distinctively playful and nostalgic identity, which sets it apart from the ghostly images of the American and European Halloween, as exemplified in Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain and Saint-Saëns's Danse Macabre." The holiday begins as children are sent to the cemetery to entice and welcome the spirits of the dead to leave of their place of rest — Mictlán — for one day and cavort with the living. Ceremonial dishes are cooked and altars are prepared with memorabilia of the departed loved ones. "Skeletons then rise from their graves and the spirits of the dead are reunited with the living. There is joyous celebration with singing, story-telling, feasting, and dancing. At the end of the day, bells ring again and the revels end. The living, again led by the children, say goodbye to the dead and the spirits return to their graves…" Rodríguez incorporates several popular Mexican folk songs and uses a rich assortment of pitched instruments while eschewing all drums except timpani. He prominently uses two marimbas and notes that "the marimba is the national instrument of Mexico, as well as an apt musical representation of skeletons."Next May, the NEC Percussion Ensemble brings Rodríguez's El Día de los Muertos and Tower's DNA to Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall.