The Helena Symphony Orchestra & Chorale perform a Halloween Symphony Spooktacular on Saturday, October 22, 7:30 p.m. at the Helena Civic Center.  With every performer on stage complete in costume, the HSO&C presents some spooky favorites, such as Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor (made famous from Disney’s original Fantasia), Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, and Rachmaninoff’s The Isle of the Dead.

The second half of the concert is dedicated to music from Tim Burton’s wild, weird, and wacky films composed by Danny Elfman, including the films Beetlejuice, Corpse Bride, Batman and Batman Returns.  As with such director and composer creative collaborations like Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Hermann, or Steven Spielberg and John Williams, the films of Tim Burton are intrinsically linked to the music of Danny Elfman.  He started his career in the “willfully, weird, slyly cerebral octet” Oingo Boingo.  A fan of Oingo Boingo, the wonderfully and hauntingly odd film maker (and former Disney animator) Tim Burton asked Elfman to score the music for Burton’s first movie, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985).  With hands-on training, Elfman went on to provide scores for about forty films in the last two decades, and for many other non-Burton films such as Nightmare Before Christmas, Spiderman, Good Will Hunting, Men in Black, Spy Kids, Flubber, and Sommersby, as well as the themes for the television series The Simpsons and Desperate Housewives.

“I have to be half-composer and half-psychiatrist” when composing a score for a Tim Burton film, says Elfman.  Burton’s first major success that defined his gothic and quirky cinematic genre was the 1988 dark comedy, Beetlejuice. “I get drawn to things that don’t make any sense, and I learned early on not to resist that,” explained Elfman.  His personal tastes for the off-kilter and the bizarre has made him a natural choice for the darker edges of Tim Burton’s movies.  With Beetlejuice, Elfman created an in-your-face, relentlessly fun score that is full of hi-jinx and light terror (and even used two songs by Harry Belafonte: Day-O and Jump in the Line).    It was not until 1989 that Elfman captured attention with his score to Burton’s masterwork, Batman (for which Elfman won a Grammy Award).  The score to the 1989 film and its sequel Batman Returns (1992) were drenched in darkness and romance.  In addition to Burton’s “dark knight” vision, Elfman’s score took a comic book movie and transformed it into a veritable romantic fantasy epic that still captures the imaginations of moviegoers today. 

The music of Bach, Saint-Saëns, and Rachmaninoff are fairly well known works that bring the Halloween celebration to life.  Made internationally known in 1938 by Disney in the film Fantasia, Bach’s Toccata & Fugue has become one of the most loved works in music today.  The work was originally composed for organ solo and later orchestrated by legendary conductor Leopold Stokowski.  “The orchestra now becomes the organ to give a wonderfully self-indulgent work grandeur and fantasy that is nothing short of all-consuming, devouring our aural appetite,” suggests Maestro Scott.

Having some fun with temptation, French composer Camille Saint-Saëns explores the legend of “Death” appearing at midnight every year on Halloween, calling forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle.  Like a pied-piper, the Devil plays as the skeletons dance until dawn.  Rachmaninoff first saw the painting The Isle of the Dead by Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin.  Painted in 1880 for a young German widow who asked Böcklin for a picture to dream by, The Isle of the Dead haunted and captured viewers all throughout Europe, and it is considered an artistic icon of the late 1800s.  The artist described his painting as “a dream picture; it must produce such an effect of stillness that anyone would be frightened to hear a knock at the door.”   Rachmaninoff’s The Isle of the Dead musically brings the painting to life.  With irregular movement of oars in the water, Rachmaninoff employs the “Dies irae” (the Gregorian chant meaning “day of doom,” taken from the Mass for the Dead) as we approach this eerie, desolate island that looks like something from a Harry Potter movie.


A few years ago, the Symphony invited the audience, along with all the musicians, to use their cell phones during the concert.  “This was a great success,” says Director of Patron Services Scott Kall.  “With the phones silenced, we ask the audience to have fun, take photos throughout the concert, and then post them throughout social media, tagging the Helena Symphony.  With the musicians of the Orchestra, Chorale, and Maestro Scott in costume, the entire audience is encouraged to join us in costume and enjoy this fun concert.”

Subscriptions are still available for the reminder of the Season, and single tickets to the 2016-2017 Season can be purchased on line at, or by calling the Symphony Box Office (406.442.1860), or at the Symphony Box Office located on the corner of Broadway and the Walking Mall in the Livestock Building (2 N. Last Chance Gulch, Suite 1) between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.  Single concert ticket prices range from $52 to $12.  Subscription packages are available in several price ranges, and subscribers can secure tickets to the Non-Series Concerts with their season tickets.

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