Halloween, America’s fave time for transformation and surprise, inspired the Toledo Symphony to conjure one of its most unusual, innovative, and energizing Classics Series concerts in some time.
It opened for the first of two shows under last night’s full moon.
If the Peristyle weren’t bursting with people, it slowly filled with enthusiasm as a bold divergence from the typical overture-concerto-symphony programming began to be understood and appreciated.
For starters, there were three of them — overtures, that is — each moving forward in time, from the Romantic 1800s to the 20th century.
In his Classics debut, resident Conductor Jeffrey Pollock elicited from a very responsive orchestra the essence of works by Carl Maria von Weber, Cesar Franck, and Malcolm Arnold. Clarity, contrast, and musical finesse were consistent through each piece, with fine solo and section playing.
Still, the serious fun started right after intermission, when Frankenstein!! by German composer H.K. Gruber lifted off.
Earlier, Pollock had predicted the response, saying, “Audiences will not be able to sit idly by” during the performance.
He was right.
For the next half hour, this unique 21st-century piece in nine sections swirled through the stately hall accompanied by laughter and spontaneous applause.
Gruber’s subtitle, a Pan-Demonium, is about the best word to describe its delightfully stimulating quality, which is at once challenging classical music and a work requiring musicians to double on kazoos, slide whistles, plastic flutes, and other toy instruments.
The orchestra rose to the occasion with elan and hubris, clearly in the Halloween spirit.
Still, the single biggest reason for its standing ovation has to be Robert Clemens.
Typically the orchestra’s reserved fourth cello — a position he has held since 1986 — Clemens transformed into a singer-actor-storyteller-spellbinder dressed in a natty tuxedo. With lightning-quick changes, he narrated twisted nursery rhymes and contemporary moral fantasies, assuming a dozen or more voices and roles. He sang over a two-plus octave range and even doubled on toy instruments.
Most powerfully, Clemens summoned the ghost of Kurt Weill’s classic cabaret host, a cross between a beneficent observer and a mildly malicious manipulator. It was totally tour de force, an astonishingly virtuoso performance.
As a kicker, there was the brilliant Stokowski arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.
Frankenstein!! will repeat at 8 p.m. in the Peristyle. Tickets are $22-55 at 419-246-8000 or www.toledosymphony.com.
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