Classical Music

Bonjour, Triste

Sad old story = delightful new evening

By Michael Hardy October 30, 2013 Published in the November 2013 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Courtesy of Houston Symphony

La Triste Historia 
Nov 1 & 2 at 8; Nov 3 at 2:30
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Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is one of Mexico’s most important holidays. Coinciding with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day but dating back to pre-Columbian times, the celebration honors the memories of deceased friends and relatives. On November 1 and 2 of each year, Mexican families travel to cemeteries to clean and decorate graves; build elaborate altars containing a dearly departed’s  favorite foods and drinks; and even get tattoos of the deceased. This year, the Houston Symphony is getting in on the act with La Triste Historia (The Sad Story), a Day of the Dead–inspired multimedia concert, which the Symphony hopes will draw new audiences to Jones Hall. 

“The project supports a very important goal of the Symphony in our centennial season and beyond, and that is to program symphonic works that help to make the Houston Symphony more relevant to Houston’s diverse communities,” says Houston Symphony Executive Director Mark Hanson. 

The idea for the concert came from longtime Symphony collaborator Duncan Copp, who developed the orchestra’s highly successful HD Odyssey series, and industry veteran Ben Young Mason. Like those productions (The Planets: An HD Odyssey and The Earth: An HD Odyssey), La Triste Historia involves a seamless merging of film and live orchestral music. In the animated film—produced by Copp from Mason’s story—the son of a wealthy hidalgo falls in love with the poor daughter of a santero, a carver of saints. The girl is killed in the Mexican Revolution and can only be reunited with her lover once a year, on the Day of the Dead. To accompany the film, the symphony commissioned a work from acclaimed Mexican composer Juan Trigos. Trigos, who divides his time between Mexico and the United States, was immediately intrigued by the project.

“What interested me was the idea of making a symphony, not just incidental music for a film,” he says, comparing his work to Prokofiev’s film scores, which are often played as independent pieces of music. This summer, the Houston Symphony rehearsed the Trigos piece for the first time. A recording of that rehearsal was sent to England so that the film’s animators could synchronize their work. The final piece of the puzzle will come in performance, from Mexican conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto, who must ensure that Trigos’s music and Copp’s film line up perfectly during the concert. If everyone does their job, the Jones Hall crowd won’t notice how much behind-the-scenes effort went into the production. 

“Hopefully, audience members don’t say to themselves, ‘my gosh, this is a complicated set of elements being woven together,’” says Hanson. “We hope that they’re just moved by the live performance.”

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