Written by Michael Martin
The halls of the SF symphony felt eerily alive on Thursday, October 27, as anticipation built to hear one of the best horror soundtracks ever produced. Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock’s thrilling 1960 masterpiece of horror “Psycho” is perhaps the most distinct movie soundtrack in film history. Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen began this chilling night with the legendary sounds of Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” I couldn’t think of a better pre-Halloween treat, and as I looked around at a packed house of fans, I knew I wasn’t alone in my excitement. Bernard Herrmann, one of the standout Hollywood composers, got his start in 1940 with Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” and ended with Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” in 1975, probably one of my favourite movies. Herrmann’s strings-only composition in the opening and closing sections, as well as the famous – or should we say notorious – “shower Scene,” were mirrored with the utmost perfection by our beloved SF Symphony players. To hear each note and musical vibration in Davies Hall for this particular work shows the genius of Herrmann, and you quickly understand why Hitchcock doubled his pay for the score. There were high-intensity peaks and equally subtle notes that took us on a rollercoaster ride in our seats as we swayed to the music’s immense power. The SF Symphony’s intensity and focus cut through like a knife held by Norman Bates himself.
A chill surrounded the room as Psycho came to an end, and the intensity continued with “Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin” by Bela Bartok. This musical work invokes emotion with some wonderfully creepy pieces of music. The SF Symphony performed The Mandarin bursts of incredible and intense musical themes with effortless panache. To say this special music features energetic, delicate, mysterious, dissonant, and colourfully-scored passages is an understatement. Our conductor evoked the magnificence of drama with the wave of his magic wand as he guided this incredible group of musicians from start to finish.
Lastly was HK Gruber’s “Frankenstein!” A setting of children’s rhymes, mostly comically scary or gruesome. A delightful, frightful twist of merging jazz to Viennese cabaret with baritone Christopher Purves. I really enjoyed this piece, as it inspired thoughts of compositions by Danny Elfman and Tim Burton, which came to mind during this whole piece, and I loved every second. Thank you, SF Symphony, for starting Halloween festivities in a delightful way that only they know how to achieve for us San Franciscans – TRICK OR TREAT.
Psycho: A Narrative for String Orchestra
Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin
Photo credit: Brittany Hosea-Small
For more info on the SF Symphony and for tickets, go to: http://www.sfsymphony.org