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Music review: A haunting evening with the DSSO

The Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra pulled out all the stops, creating a Halloween concert to remember.

DNT review
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Cruella De Vil, the Cat in the Hat, witches, pirates and a unicorn were all in attendance at the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra’s “Chills and Thrills” concert, and that was just onstage with many of the musicians in colorful costumes.
Before the concert, a remote-controlled, masked Baby Yoda (the “Child”) rolled across the stage carrying a little violin and bow, to laughter and applause from the audience. And even Music Director Dirk Meyer got in the act when he skulked in, face hidden behind his scarlet red cape.
With Broadway showstoppers, classical pieces, and movie and TV themes, the DSSO’s Pops Concert offered a bubbling witches’ brew for any musical taste. Opera singer, actor, and director Jeffrey Madison, seated in an armchair in a little hearthside set, provided the delightful narration for the concert, in turns menacing and at others offering bits of humor.
Two large onstage screens had animated graphics of spiders, pumpkins, graveyards and fog, adding to the fun ambiance of the evening.
My preconcert research included rewatching one of my all-time favorite Disney films, “Fantasia.” Two of the pieces in the concert, Paul Dukas’ “Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” were featured in the Disney classic.
In the film, “wannabe” wizard Mickey and the water-carrying broom still delight in the “Apprentice,” and the demons and ghouls in “Bald Mountain” still haunt, but it is the soaring melodies, beautifully played by the Symphony, that create the magic, even without the film.
Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” is a tour de force for the DSSO brass section as the music recreates the mythology of the Flying Valkyries on their winged steeds.
Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Macabre” has a devilishly wicked setting in a musical graveyard with “bony” skeleton sounds from the xylophone, and Concertmaster Erin Aldridge’s bow flying through her frenzied solos, with the “devil’s interval” adding to the unearthly tune.
Composer John Williams is well-represented, first with the exhilarating “Flying Theme from ET” evoking the indelible image of the little alien in the basket and the boy flying on a bicycle with the moonlit backdrop behind them.
For me, one of the scariest scenes in film history is the shark’s first victim in “Jaws,” where you don’t see the shark at all, but only the horror and reaction of the girl being devoured and tugged under. The symphony’s performance of John Williams’ “Shark’s Theme” recreated all the intensity of the mindless eating machine below the waves.
A soaring medley of songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” was another crowd pleaser.

My all-time favorite Broadway song, “Defying Gravity,” was part of the exciting “Wicked” medley. The orchestra, conducted by Assistant Conductor Andrew Kim, transported me back to my Broadway seat, with Idina Menzel as Elphaba, flying high above the audience singing this anthem of defiance.
More unforgettable compositions from John Williams closed the evening with the grandeur, mystery and majesty of themes from “Harry Potter.”
The DSSO pulled out all the stops, creating a Halloween concert to remember. Deservedly, they received an exuberant and heartfelt standing ovation, leaving their audience wanting more.

If you go

What: Virtual Performance of the DSSO’s “Chills and Thrills” concert (from Oct. 30)
Where: Online access tickets at dsso.com
Cost: $15 for virtual concert
Information: 218-623-DSSO (3776)

Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and director. She reviews performances for the Duluth News Tribune.

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