Just in time for Halloween, the Florida Orchestra offers a full orchestra concert inspired by the spooky season. Guests are encouraged to dress up, as are the orchestra musicians.
The concert is conducted by new assistant conductor Chelsea Gallo, who also programmed it. The show includes music from “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Jaws” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, as well as the classics “Dance Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens and “Peer Gynt” Suite No. 1 by Edvard Grieg . Op. 46: IV, “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. Before the show, guests can try out instruments at the Instrument Petting Zoo.
It will last one hour without intermission.
Gallo spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about his selections and what makes music scary. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about the concert program.
So when we get the chance to do a concert like this, where it’s really about entertainment but also that first look for young people at what a symphony orchestra can do, for me, I thinks almost like a play. You know, how does one grow through music? Where do we want to end up, what is our audience’s attention span? What can we do with the time we have to really show the power of a symphony orchestra? And for me, that was finding plays with great stories, with great costume opportunities, of course, for Halloween and plays that you can watch and say, “Wow, I had no idea that an orchestra could do that.”
“Peer Gynt” is a familiar tune that has been used in many instances of pop culture. What makes it so scary?
So there are two ways to answer it. There’s one that’s very technical, part of using instruments and what they can do. The whole piece starts with this very eerie hunting call from the French horns in the back of the orchestra and you think, “Wait, where did that come from?” first, and second, “What is actually advertised to start hunting?” And the music itself develops as if coming from afar towards you, very invading. And…it creates fear that you will be approached by something unknown. You have to decide, does he run to me or do I run away from him? There’s a huge build-up and towards the end you have these huge orchestrator hammerings like “Wait, did they catch me or did I catch him?” … It’s a wonderful piece of music that’s kind of been relegated to Halloween programs. But the reason it’s so popular and the reason it pops up in popular culture is because it’s just, frankly, a good piece of music that we have fun playing and audiences like to identify with.
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“Dance Macabre” by Saint-Saëns sounds ominous.
Again, there are two very specific reasons why he gives off this creepy element. A musical technical reason is that the solo violin at the start is not a normal violin. It’s actually badly set; it’s scordatura violin. It creates this tritone interval; you would call that an incorrect interval. In the history of music, it was called the devil’s interval, because it does not occur naturally. It’s not really pleasant for our ears. But Saint-Saëns takes it, twists it, sets it against rhythms and other orchestral instruments that make it sound as if the devil himself has shown himself.
The theme of “Jaws” is instantly recognizable and so creepy. How did John Williams achieve this?
When John Williams pitched the idea for “Jaws” to (Steven) Spielberg, he laughed at him. John Williams came over and said, hey, I’ve got two notes for you, and this is going to be your villain. Spielberg said, you’re kidding me. And John Williams said, no, that’s it, it’s “da-dum da-dum”. It highlights the origins of great film music in the history of classical art music, and it also ties into what I said earlier about “Peer Gynt”. The reason it’s so effective is that you get this idea of something from a place that you don’t know is approaching. It’s very progressive, and the step music means the notes are right next to each other. So with “Jaws” the idea of literally coming out of the depths because the music starts with the lowest possible instruments in the orchestra. You get no tonal center. You’re given affect, then you’re given two ratings, and he’s your villain. It’s brilliant.
You’re going to hear the double basses, the really big string instruments in the back of the orchestra…playing those low notes as low as possible (one) instrument can go, but you’re also going to be able to see the pianist on stage because this piece also called for a piano to be played. You will see the pianist put his hand inside the instrument, not on the keys, but inside the strings of the piano, playing the lower end of the strings inside the piano to highlight this which we unconsciously perceive as the depth of the ocean. … It’s really an incredible effect.
If you are going to
Family concert in the haunted halls. $10 to $20; free for children 3 and under. 2:30 p.m. October. Mahaffey Theatre. 400 First St. S. 727-892-3331. floridaorchestra.org