Zombies and orchestral music do not mix well.
So might go a common misconception that UCSB musicians are seeking to correct. This Thursday, the UCSB Symphony Orchestra, along with the jazz band and members of the music faculty, will be performing its first-ever “Halloween Spooktacular,” with a repertoire that features classical stalwarts, contemporary improvisational works, and an emphasis on the eerie.
The orchestra will perform excerpts from Modest Mussorgsky’s Picture at an Exhibition, a canonical piano work in its own right that achieved a broader audience with Maurice Ravel’s masterful orchestration in 1922. It is probably not a coincidence that the UCSB orchestra’s strongest movement depicts Baba Yaga, a child-eating witch of Slavic folklore. The movement draws clunky, creepy sounds from all corners of the orchestra, invoking not only the witch but her house — a hut that stands on chicken legs.
Another classical favorite, Edward Grieg’s In The Hall of The Mountain King, brings similar electricity to the concert stage. In an introduction familiar to anyone with ears, the basses and cellos pluck furtively as Peer Gynt, the story’s protagonist, attempts to escape his tormentor undetected. Of course, things do not turn out so easy — the audience is taken on a thundering ride that culminates, finally, in a breathless escape by the hero.
The jazz band will perform works by the larger-than-life bassist Charles Mingus, known for his virtuosic bass playing, perfectionist band leading, and prodigious composing. The choice of Mingus for the Halloween Spooktacular comes as no surprise; his dissonant compositions often reflect a tormented psyche.
Finally, at the helm of the concert hall’s underutilized organ, composer and music faculty member Jeremy Haladina will perform quintessentially spooky Bach on as well a contemporary improvisational work of his own making, designed, no doubt, to fright.
Preparations for the concert have been given almost as much weight as the pieces. Orchestra players are required to wear costumes, provided headwear does not obstruct the view of the conductor. And conductor Richard Rintoul, the mastermind behind the fusion of symphony and spook, has volunteered his own Halloween wardrobe — with some 60-70 costumes — to help clothe the less-prepared members of the symphony.
Of course, none of these costumes will rival that of the maestro himself, whose press photos for the event foretell an outfit suited for the Lord of the Underworld (assuming he’s also a pirate).
Of course, no Halloween Spooktacular is complete without decorations. Jack-o-Lanterns, carved by orchestra members, will line the stage on the night of the performance, and many will spend Wednesday afternoon helping the conductor adorn the stubbornly dull Lotte Lehman Concert Hall with his vast inventory of life-size ghouls, decapitated heads, and gigantic insects — much more than the typical cobwebs and plastic skulls.
As is evident from the preparations, enthusiasm for Thursday’s concert is running high. The show promises to spook (in a good way) all attendees, even those with limited appetites for the classical genre.
And if heart-pounding chase scenes, brooding dissonance, and a menacing concert hall are not quite enough to convince you to start your Halloween weekend one day early, audience members can expect some horrifying surprises — according to Rintoul, “There will be deaths.”