Guitarist Craig Wagner
Bob Bernhardt, conductor
A review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
For those that may not know, Bob Bernhardt has been a staple of the Louisville Orchestra Pops series for over 40 years and he has a knack for developing fun and exciting themed programs. Saturday night’s selection was one such theme as we are smack dab in the middle of the Halloween season…. Fright Night.
While we were not visited by the Fearmonger of TV’s “Fright Night” fame, we were treated to an eclectic mix of truly hair-raising melodies and some that left your head scratching as to their scariness…all from the movie world. One person’s horror is another person’s delight.
Danny Elfman’s Suite from Batman was a fun start to the evening and certainly recognizable as it has a brooding and sinister theme woven throughout all the movements. Even though the late pop sensation Prince had chart-topping songs in the movie as well, one cannot discount the genius of Elfman’s interpretation of The Dark Knight.
Bernard Herrmann had two of his famous arrangements featured this evening: the Overture from North by Northwest and Psycho: A Short Suite for Stings featuring the Prelude and The Murder. Both pieces are iconic for various reasons, but the former is perhaps one of the most recognizable E-flat to G-flat descending scale to date. For me, it was nice to hear the Overture as I am not as familiar with the music or the movie (I know, I need to correct that), and can certainly hear the tenseness of the movie.
Speaking of iconic movies and sounds, what comes to mind when you hear the title Tubular Bells? It sounds like a tame, almost sacred theme, right? Tied to one of the most terrifying and possibly cursed movies to date, Mike Oldfield’s Bells is used in The Exorcist because producers of the movie felt that it had a childlike feel to it suitable for a nursery. After the movie, I will never hear this piece in the same way again.
To round out the first half of the evening were selections of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera and James Horner’s Aliens Suite. While I have intimate knowledge of the oft-performed and always entertaining Phantom, I was mesmerized by our Louisville Orchestra’s performance of Aliens. I had seen the first movie and remember how creepy the music of Jerry Goldsmith was used in that celluloid classic, but Horner’s interpretation takes it up to the Nth degree. The technical aspects of the Aliens Suite were nothing short of meticulous and perfect in its delivery.
Without even uttering “Trick or Treat” we were treated to a quick extra bit of candy in the form of three young ladies from the Louisville School of Rap who joined the Louisville Orchestra in a fun and danceable singalong to Ray Parker, Jr’s theme to the movie, Ghostbusters.
Seeing that it is a Bob Bernhardt-curated program, one can rest assured in the knowledge that there is a chance that John Williams’s compositions will make their way in and tonight did not disappoint. We heard selections from Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Witches of Eastwick, Jaws, and the first three movies of the Harry Potter franchise.
While we did not have mutant dinosaurs roaming the stage, our orchestra’s performance surely allowed our imaginations to go to those scenes with their concentrated delivery of Jurassic Park’s theme, as did their interpretation of the Devil’s Dance from The Witches of Eastwick. You could just picture Jack Nicholson dancing around on stage. Come to think of it, wasn’t he a little devilish as the Joker in Batman?
Like the famous passage from Herrmann’s music for Psycho, John Williams provided two more iconic scales for us to cringe or think of intelligent life beyond the stars. The Jaws two-note ostinato in the bass, E to F, is a sound pattern that has prompted people to stay out of the waters for decades. The other would be the five notes, D, E, Middle C, Lower C, G, used with varying instruments (although in the movie more so from an organ and tuba) along with the Kodaly language of music and lights, we were able to communicate with extraterrestrial life. Wouldn’t it have been truly neat if our orchestra had reached out to such a life? Well, if they had not reached beyond our solar system, they sure did the audience.
Throughout the themes of the Harry Potter movies, there are illusions of wonder, magic, and evil and Williams is a master at conveying those feelings and emotions. The use of the little played celesta by keyboardist Jessica Dorman gave extra oomph to the allure of the great composer’s works.
We could not leave the performance without one more nod to Williams or music that makes you shiver or know that evil lurks. Bernhardt and our orchestra ended the evening with an encore of The Imperial March from Star Wars.
From start to finish the chills and thrills were all around Whitney Hall, thanks to our amazing orchestra with a special nod to our percussion section who did some truly heavy lifting as well as guest guitarist Craig Wagner.
Cannot wait for some more scary good tunes.
October 21, 2023
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
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 of experience in the classical arts.