Juneau Symphony presents a ghoulish gala

More than 60 costumed musicians from the symphony will perform two shows this weekend

Posted: Thursday, October 23, 2008

Symphony music is not all about dead people - even when it comes to Halloween, said Juneau Symphony resident composer William Todd Hunt.

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"When most people think of symphony music they think of dead Europeans from centuries ago, and that's not the case," he said. "There are loads of people writing for orchestras and smaller groups as well today."

More than 60 costumed musicians from the Juneau Symphony will perform the Ghoulish Gala this weekend, an event which includes old favorites as well as an Alaska premiere of a newly commissioned piece.

The concert will be held at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 25, and again at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 26 in the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. A "concert conversation" will be held one hour prior to each show.

The symphony's annual silent auction will also take place during the performance, which is one of the organization's largest fundraisers of the year.

"This is going to be a fun one," said music director and conductor Kyle Wiley Pickett. "We did a Halloween family concert two years ago and it was one of our big hits, so there were a lot of requests to do it again."

It's not too often you get to see a full symphony dressed in Halloween costumes, he said.

"It's a great program to come to if you're kind of interested in the symphony and you haven't been sure about going, because it's going to be a very informal and fun program," Pickett said. Audience members are also encouraged to come in costume.

Hunt was not around during the last Halloween show but said he is looking forward to this production.

"It sounds like it will be really fun, playing some serious music and some tongue-and-cheek music in a Dracula outfit or something," he said laughing, adding that he has not chosen a costume yet.

There is a wide variety of music being presented at the Ghoulish Gala, from movie scores to serious classical pieces. The music selected includes "Night on Bald Mountain" by Modest Mussorgsky; "March to the Scaffold" by Hector Berlioz; "Funeral March" by Gustav Mahler; the themes from "Batman" and "The Simpsons" by Danny Elfman; and "Prelude" and "Witch's Ride" from Engelbert Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel."

Pickett said he is excited about presenting the "Batman" theme for the Halloween concert.

"It's a really cool piece. I haven't done a whole lot of film music other than John Williams, so it's kind of neat to do another film composer and the 'Batman' score is just a terrific score," he said. "We're also doing his theme from 'The Simpsons,' which I love. I've always loved it and thought it was a great theme so I thought it would be pretty fun to do with the whole orchestra."

The concert will also include the Alaska premiere of Joseph Schwantner's "Chasing Light." The piece of music was commissioned as part of the Ford Made in America program, which is a partnership with the League of American Orchestras and Meet the Composer. The idea behind the program is to get several small orchestras to pool financial resources to commission work, Pickett said.

"Being a small orchestra and getting a big name composer to write a piece for you is a pretty tough thing," he said. "The big name composers, the folks that are out there writing for major orchestras ... they charge a lot for their commissions to write a piece."

The collaboration is a great way to bring new music to new places, Hunt said.

"Commissioning new music is something that I find very important," he said. "I'm just happy the symphony is doing this. Getting composers that are alive today to write things is kind of an exciting endeavor."

"Chasing Light" is not a Halloween piece of music, but it is relevant because it is about the changing light and colors during the fall, Pickett said. The piece is in four short movements and lasts less than 20 minutes total.

"Each one is kind of a different view of light in the fall, so light filtering through trees or light coming over the hills, or these various things," he said. "So it makes a lot of sense to do it."

Pickett said Schwantner's music is accessible and enjoyable.

"He's a great composer," he said. "He writes really neat music. It's very listenable, really kind of fun."

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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