Spirits, monsters, things that go bump — and tweet, eek, and squeak — in the night, plus other evidence that Halloween is just ahead are on tap at the Toledo Symphony’s Classics Series concerts at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Peristyle.
The works are all premieres for local audiences but, to ramp up drama and thrills, the centerpiece is one of the most colorful and bizarre works in orchestral literature — Heinz Karl Gruber’s 1976 theater piece, Frankenstein!! A Pan-Demonium for Chansonnier and Ensemble.
Pan-Demon — get it?
Yes, as the name suggests, Mary Shelley’s classic horror tale is in there, but there’s so much more going on during its 30-minute run.
This lively contemporary work for small orchestra and intrepid story teller (that’s the chansonnier part) samples demons from a wealth of spooky stories and popular culture. Heroes and anti-heroes from Dr. Frankenstein’s recycled monster, werewolves, and vampires to John Wayne, Superman, James Bond and Goldfinger, and Batman are brought to life in the score.
Gruber’s approach is so tongue-in-cheek that humor trumps terror. Audiences will giggle and hoot instead of screaming.
He based his text on a German book of children’s rhymes by H.C. Artmann, Noises, Noises All Around.
Subtitled Lovely New Children’s Rhymes, the verses fit into the pantheon of politically motivated kid lit from the last 300 years. Think Mother Goose nursery rhymes, Alice in Wonderland, and the Wizard of Oz series, among others.
“Artmann himself has described the poems as being, among other things, ‘covert political statements,’ ” Gruber wrote in a 1997 program note. He is composer in residence and conductor for the BBC Philharmonic in England.
“Typically he refused to explain what he meant. But his reticence is eloquent: The monsters of political life have always tried to hide their true faces, and all too often succeed in doing so. One of the dubious figures in the ‘pan-demonium’ is the unfortunate scientist who makes so surprising an entry at midpoint.
“Frankenstein — or whoever we choose to identify with that name — is not the protagonist but the figure behind the scenes whom we forget at our peril. Hence the exclamation marks!”
Certainly in the 1960s, when Gruber, a Viennese musical wunderkind, turned toward street theater in his staid hometown, there was plenty of political fodder.
He called the original smaller work, Frankenstein Suite, “instrumental theater.” It was first performed in 1971.
Revised to encompass a larger orchestra in 1978, the piece to be performed in Toledo features classical instruments but also includes slide and penny whistles, whirligigs, lots of percussion, and other noisemakers.
Robert Clemens, the symphony cellist and resident thespian, will tap into all his chops — musical and otherwise — to become narrator, comic commentator, occasional plastic flute tooter, and cabaret emcee.
For resident conductor Jeffrey Pollock, the concert marks his debut in the symphony’s marquee Classics Series. Known as a lively and sophisticated artist through work in other series, Pollock will be able to utilize his own dramatic impulses in this concert.
Opening the program will be Carl Maria von Weber’s rather manic overture, Ruler of the Spirits. It’s based on the struggle between a supernatural figure and a mortal, a Germanic tale which was to have been the centerpiece of an opera. Weber never finished it, but this overture endures as a lively concert opener.
For “The Accursed Huntsman,” French composer Cesar Franck also turned to a folk ballad by German poet Gottfried August Burger. The story is rather Faustian in its depiction of the huntsman who trades church service attendance for chasing game on a Sunday morning.
Witchcraft’s irresistible allure for a Scottish character lies behind Sir Malcolm Arnold’s Tam O’Shanter Overture, which will wind up the first half of the symphony program next weekend. Based on a Robert Burns poem about a Scottish ne’er-do-well, the music depicts the character’s ultimate downfall.
Finally, once the dust has settled from “Frankenstein,” the orchestra will turn to perhaps the classic work of all classics for horror films: Johann Sebastian Bach’s looming Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Instead of using the museum’s venerable Skinner organ, the symphony will perform the Leopold Stokowski orchestral arrangement immortalized in the 1940 Disney film Fantasia.
Tickets for the concerts are $22-$52 at www.toledosymphony.com or 419-246-8000.
Contact Sally Vallongo at: firstname.lastname@example.org.