PUBLISHED: 6:21 PM on Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Ghoulish Gala a spooky start to symphony season
JUNEAU - Your Halloween costume will double as fine concert attire this weekend. The Juneau Symphony will begin its fall season with a "Ghoulish Gala," featuring macabre pieces and costumed musicians.

The program will include spooky favorites such as Gustav Mahler's "Funeral March," Hector Berlioz's "March to the Scaffold," Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" and Danny Elfman's theme from "Batman." The program will include the Alaska premiere of Joseph Schwanter's "Chasing Light," commissioned by the Ford Made in America project.

photo courtesy of Juneau Symphony
  Most of the orchestra members are expected to be alive, and in costume, for the Juneau Symphony's Ghoulish Gala concert Oct. 25-26.
This year's "Ghoulish Gala," on Oct. 25 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 26 at 3 p.m., is the Symphony's second Halloween concert. When the dates for the first concert are close to Halloween, it's hard to help it.

"We always end up (having our first concert) right around Halloween," said conductor Kyle Wiley Pickett. "You've got to capitalize on that. It's a natural thing for a symphony to do because music is such a natural, potent force in any scary movie or scary story."

Pickett said there are about two programs worth of Halloween music a symphony could perform, but the only piece repeated from the past program is "Night on Bald Mountain," which appears in Disney's "Fantasia." The piece is about a demon on Bald Mountain who calls up ghosts, skeletons and devils from hell to entertain him.

"You can't do a Halloween concert without "Night on Bald Mountain," Pickett said.

Berlioz's "March to the Scaffold" tells the story of a rejected lover who attempts suicide by opium poising. Instead of dying, however, he goes on a drug trip in which he imagines his own execution by beheading. The music captures the footsteps of prisoners marching to the guillotine, the fall of the blade, the heads bouncing and the crowd roaring.

photo courtesy of Juneau Symphony
  Conductor Kyle Wiley Pickett dressed as Harry Potter for the 2006 Halloween concert. His costume this year is a surprise. Orchestra members will be in costume, and the audience in encouraged to dress up as well. There will be a costume contest at intermission.
Despite the dark stories behind the pieces, the concert is designed to be fun for the entire family.

"My wife and I have a two year old now so we have a great appreciation for family friendly events," Pickett said.

Their son will be dressed as Thomas the tank engine. Pickett's own costume is a surprise, of course.

"It's actually a fun thing for us to break out of tuxedo wear," Pickett said. "Part of the whole point of the tuxedo or concert dress is to make us neutral on stage. You don't want the orchestra to be distracting in any way."

The music promises to be captivating so the orchestra's costumes shouldn't distract too much.

'Chasing Light ...'

There is one piece on the program that is not Halloween themed. Joseph Schwanter's "Chasing Light..." was commissioned as part of the Ford Made in America project, in which a consortium of 58 small orchestras from around the country together commission compositions by top American composers, with additional funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ford Motor Company Fund.

"Chasing Light..." is the second piece commissioned through this project. The first piece commissioned was by Joan Tower, performed by the Juneau Symphony in 2007, which went on to win three Grammy awards.

"Joseph Schwantner and Joan Tower are two of the most important American composers working now," Pickett said. "The Juneau symphony on our own would never be able to afford a composition (but) as a consortium we can get works by these really prominent composers."

Schwanter's piece is based on a poem he wrote about the sunlight he saw playing from his New Hampshire home. This performance will be the Alaska premiere of the work.

"It's literally about the way that light plays through the fall foliage," Pickett said. "So it seems really appropriate to do in October."

The Ghoulish Gala will take place Oct. 25 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 26 at 3 p.m at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. Concert conversation will be held one hour prior to performances. Advance tickets can be purchased at Hearthside Books, the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, or online at Tickets purchased at the door will cost an additional $2.

There will be a silent auction in the JDHS Commons with bidding beginning at 6 p.m. Oct. 25 and closing after intermission on Oct. 26.

Ticket Prices

Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors. Oct. 26 special ticket prices for students and children are $10. Season tickets are available online or from the Symphony office at 522 W. 10th St. or 586-4676.

2008-09 SEASON

The Ghoulish Gala kicks off a season of powerful and varied programs.

In January the orchestra will perform Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5, which Pickett said the orchestra has wanted to do for some time.

"This is kind of like a Beethoven (Ninth Symphony) project for the symphony," Pickett said. It's a really challenging and difficult symphony but I think it's one of the top two or three pieces written in the 20th century."

In April the Juneau Symphony will perform Brahms' Requiem with the Juneau Symphony Chorus, which Pickett says is not a traditional requiem, or mass for the dead, but is instead written to comfort the living.

"It's not a shake the foundations kind of piece," Picket said. "It's more of a lift-you-up kind of piece."

The season will conclude with a program of American music featuring George Gershwin in June for the "Summer Pops" concert.

"It's going to be a great year," Pickett said. "I love doing the family-oriented concert for Halloween."