Composer Modest Mussorgsky.

The Louisville Philharmonia Presents:

Symphonic Frights!

Daniel Spurlock, conductor

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

Who doesn’t love a themed concert? Calling themselves “The Musicians’ Orchestra”, the Louisville Philharmonia certainly got into the spirit of Halloween with their latest concert titled Terrors. While the choice of songs didn’t give me nightmares, they certainly did put a smile on my face.

This dedicated group of musicians took the season to heart with many of them dressed for the occasion. I saw the Cat in the Hat, Waldo, some witches, several sugar skulls. Even conductor Daniel Spurlock got into the fun by appearing as the Phantom of the Opera, complete with mask.

How appropriate then that the evening would begin with a snippet of the theme from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Phantom of the Opera. Despite the brass having a little bit of trouble with a rapid descending line, the orchestra excelled on two points, the first being the entrance where there is a very loud and percussive cymbal crash which suitably startled the audience. Perfect. The second would be the abrupt end, which made the audience audibly disappointed and wanting more. I’d say that’s a good sign.

Next, we heard an Orchestral Suite arrangement of Danny Elfman’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. While I am familiar with Mr. Elfman’s iteration, I have to say that I enjoyed this arrangement as well. It took a minute as I believe this suite to be in a different key from the original, but I enjoyed listening to the familiar songs that are highlighted throughout the movie and could hear small snippets of themes from other Elfman pieces such as Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice. There are some tricky percussive moments that were handled well and the woods reminded me of Klezmer music.

When you hear the familiar note structure of E, F, E, F in repetition and increasingly getting quicker on the double bass I’d guess you’d figure out what piece is next: John Williams’ Theme from Jaws. What I noticed in this arrangement is that there is an underlying harp that would suggest the lapping of water. How neat is that? And when the brass and snare punctuate the sound, it’s pretty dramatic, as is the inclusion of the higher strings.

One of the songs that I listen to every Halloween is Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre. Using the diabolical tritoe, solo violinist Elise Gambrell truly evoked the eerie sound that made that music “evil”. I noticed that there was some unevenness within the middle section where some tempos seemed a bit skewed, but everyone eventually got where they needed to be.

Isn’t it a boon for any orchestra when they have multi-talented persons within their ranks? Such is the case for this organization. Not only is member Mark Kersting the principal bass trombonist, but he is also an arranger/composer. As such we were treated to his arrangement of Carl Orff’s O Fortuna from Carmina Burana. While typically performed with a huge orchestra and an even larger chorus, Mr. Kersting arranged for a smaller orchestra and no vocals. Very admirable job and very close to the original. I did notice that there was a slight favor to the brass. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

A song that was not written with Halloween in mind, but after being paired up with the silent film of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” became one is J. S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. While usually played on the organ, this arrangement by Stokowski was for a modern orchestra. In fact, Mr. Spurlock shared with the audience that Mr. Stokowski told him that he arranged this piece as if Bach had an orchestra that he could have written the piece for. To be sure the piece sounded Bach-like but was lacking in some energy.

While not really spooky, Saint-Saëns Aquarium from Carnival of the Animals is one of the most fascinating selections of the evening. Although the piece was originally scored for a glass harmonica, a glockenspiel is commonly used instead. While I didn’t see either of these on the stage, I’ll guess that a keyboard with those elements was used. Either way, the orchestra absolutely embraced the ethereal feel of this movement.

No Hallow’s Eve celebration is complete without Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain. Used in a myriad of television shows and cartoons, most memorably in Walt Disney’s Fantasia, this piece is a staple of the season. We were treated to Rimsky Korsakov’s arrangement which, to my ear, is slightly varied from what I remember of Mussorgsky’s original. The piece requires attention and the orchestra displayed good concentration.

The three selections from Bernard Hermann’s famous Music from Psycho – Suite for Strings was intense and well played. I hadn’t noticed the dissonance that is displayed in the Finale before, so that was an eye-opener.

The evening closed with Berlioz’s Dream of a Witch’s Sabbath from Symphonie Fantastique. The composition, on the whole, is a testament to the talent, in that Berlioz did not know how to play an instrument, save for a little guitar, yet he was able to compose music such as Dream and hundreds of others. The string section is a bit tough, but they held on as the invested musicians that they are.

I appreciate this group for the time and energy that they put into their craft and for allowing audiences to enjoy their talents. I feel everyone did a Boo-tiful job!

Bravi Tutti!!!

Symphonic Frights!

October 24, 2019

The Louisville Philharmonia
Harvey Browne Presbyterian Church
311 Browns Lane
Louisville, KY 40207


Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in 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 City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.