Symphony treated audience to spooky selections

By Paul Trzos

The Delaware County Symphony performs on Halloween at Neumann University. Photo by Paul Trzos.

On Halloween evening, Delaware County Symphony members performed spooky classical pieces for an audience of all ages at Neumann University in Aston, Pa.

The “Musical Haunts” concert balanced a fun, spooky tone with slightly more macabre elements. Many symphony and audience members dressed in costumes for the occasion, and children were given candy bags at the Meagher Theater performance.

Songs were chosen to be approachable for all ages and not too spooky for younger audience members, said Roberta Winemiller, Chamber Series director.

“The whole point of the chamber music series is to give members of the bigger orchestra the chance to play in a smaller setting,” she said.

The performance, for instance, opened with a short piece played solely for a piano and strings rather than for the entire symphony. The backstory of each piece was explained, entertaining the audience and giving the music a Halloween context. 

The second piece of the evening, the dramatic and playful “Dance Macabre” for cello and piano, was based on a French superstition that “death appears at midnight.”

Winemiller chose many songs for their forceful rhythms and minor key. However, there were lighter selections, too. After the somber “Funeral March” for violin, piano and cello, the atmosphere lightened with a complex piece by Haydn that highlighted the woodwind section. 

After the “Funeral March of a Marionette,” an intermission was held during which more instruments, including the timpani and upright bass, emerged. 

A larger group of musicians played the following pieces, including a dozen for the most dramatic selections. 

The longest piece of the evening was a portion of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Over five movements, Winemiller conducted and even played the saxophone in the second. The fourth movement sounded sinister, and the timpani brought the last movement to a dramatic end. 

Hector Berlioz’s “March to the Scaffold” followed with a backstory of a nightmare about an execution. A loud chord played near the end represented a guillotine chop. 

The show rounded out with the jazzy “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” from “The Wizard of Oz.” When hearing the Addams’ Family theme song, the audience snapped their fingers. This interactive element made this song the children’s favorite. 

The crowd gave the symphony a standing ovation. Two concertgoers, Brandon and Sarah, said the whimsical selections were a hit with their children compared to other classical performances. 

Winemiller said the symphony intended to be approachable with its concert selections, and she hoped students would become interested enough to play an instrument. 

This performance was one of Winemiller’s first as director of the Chamber Series and among the symphony’s first performances since the pandemic began. 

The next performance on Dec. 5 is a big one—marking the symphony’s 50th anniversary. The concert will feature pieces from throughout its history. 

“Every piece in the December concert will come from a different decade, and there’s some tough repertoire,” Winemiller said.

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