Bolero jacket, bejeweled bustier and bold red lips — the image of Selena Quintanilla Pérez, known better simply as Selena, holds an eternal place in the minds of many. Constantly embracing and evolving her Mexican-American heritage through music and fashion, Selena confidently carved space for Tex-Mex sounds in mainstream culture, creating a conversation across cultural divides.
Behind the doors of the Davies Symphony Hall on July 9, Selena’s persistence toward uniting musical genres and cultures was reignited. Bringing together people from across the United States for a sold-out show, the San Francisco Symphony emotively performed an orchestral rendition of Selena’s most memorable hits, honoring the queen of Tejano music.
Giving voice to “The Music of Selena” was the contagious charm and powerhouse prowess of 19-year-old Tejano vocalist Isabel Marie Sánchez. Gliding across the stage, she infused the hearts of Selena fans with a rush of energetic splendor, dazzling in her multi-tiered black dress. Though this was a night at the symphony, attendees weren’t going to sit still for very long.
Painted in Selena’s signature red lip, Sánchez sang “Fotos y Recuerdos,” enlivening the sounds of Selena with the virtuosity of conductor Edwin Outwater. She mixed playful Selena-esque dance moves with her own graceful turns, cultivating a presence that evoked lighthearted joy and sophisticated allure. Motion rippled throughout the hall as attendees excitedly sang along, activated by the full-bodied resonance of a treasured song.
The beat of “Baila Esta Cumbia” excited a roar from all directions, arms shooting up to clap along with Sánchez. She layered this rhythm with the song’s familiar “hey”s, sweeping her hand low across the crowd in time with the final elongated “hey.” Despite the height of the stage, Sánchez stretched her arm out to an audience member, the tips of her fingers twirling him into a groove that lifted those who remained seated off their feet.
In search of bedazzled ranchero glamour and glimmering two-piece sets, Sánchez scanned the crowd and asked, “Who’s dressed up as Selena?” Attendees dressed in shimmering bell bottoms and vibrant shades of fuschia proudly showed off their Selena-inspired looks. Most of all, t-shirts bearing the face of the iconic singer reigned.
Sánchez occasionally left the stage to rest her voice, leaving Outwater to conduct orchestral compositions from Latin American composers. Though this drifted from the nostalgia of familiarity, the San Francisco Symphony did not disappoint.
A wistful clarinet solo began renowned Mexican composer Arturo Márquez’s “Dánzon No. 2.” Plucked viola strings ensued, rousing a sense of mystery only to be amplified by the mirrored sounds of plucked violin strings at the opposite end of the stage. Emotions were pulled through a wordless journey of wild reverie and sobering apprehension, crescendoing into an acceleration of sound that was met with the fervor of a standing ovation.
Combined with a full band consisting of drums, guitar, bass and piano, the San Francisco Symphony enwrapped attendees in a uniquely remarkable experience of Selena’s greatest hits. The Spanish-style fingerpicking of the guitar that began the “Con Tanto Amor Medley” was complemented by the sonorous elegance of bowed cellos. Melting into the ethereal breathiness of flutes, the medley ended with “Como La Flor,” trombones adding a rich vibrancy to the melodious hit.
Flickering lights encircled the stage, reflecting the galactic shimmer of Sánchez’s dress as attendees swayed their cell phone flashlights in anticipation of “Dreaming of You.” “There will never be another Selena,” Sánchez stressed, expressing how honored she was to pay tribute to the beloved singer. She slowly rotated as she sang, “I’ll be dreaming of you tonight,” sharing in Selena’s lyrical legacy with each attendee.
With one hand on her waist and the other gesturing high above her head, Sánchez shimmied alongside the orchestra, ending the night with none other than “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom.” The instruments vibrated to the heartbeat of the song’s echoed chorus and its infectious ability to ignite a surge of rocking hips, transforming the Davies Symphony Hall into a temporary dance floor forever touched by the unifying influence of Selena.