Leonie Justin Alexandre Petit, engraver. (French, 1839–1884).La danse macabre, ca. 1875.
Nightmare on Main Street
Louisville Orchestra POPS Series
Bob Bernhardt, conductor
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2015 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
It’s that time of the year, when ghoulies and ghosties come knocking’ at your door in the search of candy, all the while yelling “Trick or Treat”. But, before all of that fun was to be had, we got into the spirit (pun intended), with the Louisville Orchestra playing some of the most notable pieces that have a Halloween spin. And how often do you get to come see a concert in costume? A fun little twist to the event, complete with a Best Costume Contest.
The stage was replete with pumpkins, cobwebs (much to the chagrin of conductor Bob Bernhardt, who kept battling them throughout the performance) and warm, autumnal lights. It was fun to see some of the orchestra members participating in the costume fun as well.
Maestro Bernhardt came out donning a cowboy costume and began the evening with Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries; an energetic piece to begin the performance, although I feel that the brass section could have been brighter and bolder. Still, brilliantly played.
In true Bob Bernhardt form, as he was introducing the next piece Pirates of the Caribbean, he informed the audience that his original costume was to be a pirate, but when looking at himself in the mirror all he could do was say “Arrghh” and didn’t want to embarrass the ensemble. Then, of course, he delivered several moan-inducing pirate jokes. The audience ate it up.
While sailing the high seas, we arrived at the most famous two note progression in cinematic history: cellos begin E, F, E, F into a crescendo that leads into D#, D, C# until the full orchestra comes into compliment. I am speaking, of course, of John Williams’ iconic opening theme to Jaws.
Building on the genius that is Williams the audience was introduced to a musical technique called leitmotif: the use of a recurring theme that associates with a particular person, idea or situation. Such as can be found in Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter and the Imperial March from Star Wars.
Perhaps one of the most played orchestral pieces associated with All Hallows Eve is Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre. A string technique called scordatura allows for the diminished fifth, known as the Devil’s Interval, of which the concertmistress triumphantly nailed in her violin solo.
A duo of mummies began to bring out microphones and music stands to allow for guest artists Deana Hoying, Lyndsay Vallandingham, and Mike Brooks to entertain us with Monster Mash. The ladies did a wonderful job of keeping the lady’s chorus perfectly nasal and upper register while Mr. Brooks’ Boris Karloff was pretty spot on.
Diving into an invitation from the Maestro to sing along to a fantastic arrangement of a Rocky Horror Picture Show medley was fun and brought back memories from Midnight showings at the old Vogue Theater in St. Matthews.
After a quick costume change by Maestro Bernhardt into a baseball player, we delve into Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, another Halloween perennial that elicits fright and spooky memories. Our Orchestra did not disappoint in bringing out some of its most haunting movements, including a beautiful woodwind solo.
Remember the costume contest that I mentioned earlier, well, the audience was introduced to the contestants while the orchestra played Gounod’s famous Funeral March of a Marionette. Oh, you aren’t familiar with that piece? Remember Alfred Hitchcock? That was the theme music for his TV show. I love this piece as it is both mysterious and delightful, but, I have to say that I think the orchestra may have lost focus a bit as the contestants walked the stage in their respective regalia.
Enter another great cinematic composer, Danny Elfman, was represented by a suite from his score for Tim Burton’s Batman. This score does not disappoint as it incorporates themes and nuances from the whole of the film, including a love ballad of sorts. A love ballad? Believe me, it fits well.
Perhaps one of the other most chill-inducing sounds in cinema is the Shower Scene theme cue from Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho. Watching the strings hit those notes and looking around the audience, those notes still deliver a fright.
Although not as commonly played as some of John Williams’ other works, his Devil’s Dance from The Witches of Eastwick certainly fit into the repertoire. The audience is even introduced to a little known instrument called the jawbone.
The mummies returned and guest artist Ricky Case came on stage in full-on Michael Jackson costume for a performance of an orchestral arrangement of Thriller. Well I don’t have to tell you how appropriate this song was, but what made it even more fun was the cast of about two dozen Louisville Ballet students who came onstage to perform the dance accompaniment, while in their best (worst?) Zombie like states. While Mr. Case is a fantastic performer, I feel that this was not the right song for him as he had trouble with some of the notation, but it’s still a delightful piece.
The evening closed with an audience sing-along of Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghostbusters, while Mr. Case lead in the vocals and the students danced freestyle.
I can’t say that it was a nightmare by any stretch of the imagination, but a frighteningly fun time.
Nightmare on Main Street
October 30, 2015
Whitney Hall, The Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 W Main St
Louisville, KY 40202
Annette Skaggs is a heavily involved Arts Advocate here in Louisville and freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York Opera and Northwestern University. She has a 25+ year knowledge of the Classical Arts.