The drive to Popayán is long from Cali during Easter celebrations. People from all over the country make their pilgrimage to Popayán during this week for its famous religious processions, white buildings and the long-running Festival de Música Religiosa de Popayán. The streets that lead one block to the nextspread like a grid and were at one point travelled by horse-drawn carriage. They are now paved and too narrow for pedestrians and cars, making it inevitable to walk without looking over the shoulder. Ladies put their hair up, make themselves up beautifully and dress in the traditional long skirts and colorful blouses native to the region.
On the night of Wednesday 16th it seemed like all the inhabitants of Popayán were out to celebrate their faith and take part in the procession. Tables and chairs were organized outside homes and the elders of the community sat and watched as the procession made its way down the street. The effigy bearers dressed in long gowns with ropes around their waists like monks, other men in long tuxedo and white bow tie marched with the statues of their saints, of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ on their shoulders. These processions are part of a four-hundred- year-old tradition that was brought over toColombia by the Spanish and last all week for several hours each night with many spectators standing in absolute silence and some praying as the procession passes by.
As invited guests of the festival we were excited to make our appearance in the city’s concert hall; a beautiful building from the turn of the 19th South America. Our ensemble, Macondo Chamber Players, played a program which had nothing to do with sacred music, but got a full excited crowd that gave applause after every movement of each piece. Just hours before the concert we decided it should be dedicated to Gabriel García Márquez (Gabo) as celebration of a life in art and in the hopes that his health would improve.
As we prepared to embark the Schumann quintet we heard thunder and thought nothing of it….until an unrecognizable sound began to get louder and louder. Seconds after we began to play, the elegant hall, with a grand chandelier, gold trim and 800 seats, all occupied, began to sound like a war zone moved onto the roof. The sound was so violent that we could barely hear anything we played. As we moved into the second movement marked “In modo d’una marcha” the bombardment became less aggressive and finally calmed. This is a movement in the style of a funeral march with the second theme in major and expressive lyrical material in the first violin and cello. I have always thought of it as an opening in the sky to reveal the sun. We were all surprised to hear afterwards that all the raucous came as a result of a hail storm that fell for the duration of the first movement of the quintet and into the second.
A few minutes into the piece a thought involuntarily entered my head, and for a moment I felt that Gabo’s light was dimming. I cannot explain why or how this notion came about. It was probably a natural consequence considering all the recent news about his health and return home after a stay in the hospital. Somehow the chain of events: Macondo Chamber Players named after the imaginary town in Gabo’s books where absolutely ANYTHING can happen, the dedication of our concert to him, the glamorous hall in a very small and removed town, the noise from the hail which very seldom falls in this part of the world, the timing of the second movement march with the tapering of the noise from the hail century with the most wonderful acoustics like few halls in could all have come out of a García Márquez story of magical realism.
He died while we played. We didn’t know he had passed until half an hour after we finished the concert. The shock of his death was grave. But the collective feeling in the group is something hard to forget especially considering the fact that he passed as we played the first and second movements of Schumann Quintet as has been confirmed by news releases. Whether this has any meaning whatsoever, supernatural, or whether we simply want to believe that there was such an occurrence is up to interpretation. All we know along with the other eight-hundred people who were there is that we witnessed it and that it truly was a special moment and a meaningful way without knowing it to bid farewell to a man who represented Latin-American art for the past half-century and more. He gave Latin-Americans a sense of identity and pride in their culture. Through his ideas, and his body of work he will continue to be an inspiration to many more generations of artists here and around the world.