Death and obsession will be in the air at Benaroya Hall over the next week, beginning Saturday with Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra’s “Music’s Darkest Harvest,” featuring works reflecting their composers’ fascination with death and the macabre.
Then, in a reprise of a past Halloween favorite, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra will perform, on Wednesday and Thursday, Bernard Herrmann’s score for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece, “Psycho,” while the film screens above the musicians.
Anyone familiar with Hitchcock’s envelope-pushing drama and frequent collaborator Herrmann’s unnerving music will find the live rendition of that score — especially those notorious, screeching violins heard during the movie’s most shocking moments — a haunting, startling experience.
Sometimes it’s hard to know (again, particularly when those violins start wailing) whether one should watch the screen or the string players pumping out “Psycho’s” desperate cries.
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There’s a connection between these two seasonably grim events: Adam Stern, music director for Seattle Philharmonic and occasional guest conductor for Seattle Symphony, will be at the podium for both programs.
Stern, who is on the music faculty of Cornish College of the Arts, devises some of the richest, most resonant and interesting programs in the city via Seattle Phil.
“Knowing the concert was going to be fairly close to Halloween was an impetus for ‘Music’s Darkest Harvest,’ ” says Stern. “But there was also the fact that I’ve wanted to conduct Rachmaninoff’s ‘The Isle of the Dead’ since I was 12 or 13 years old. That speaks to a lifelong passion.”
Rachmaninoff’s symphonic poem, inspired by Arnold Böcklin’s painting of the same title, will be presented along with Liszt’s Totentanz, a short concerto for piano and orchestra.
Guest pianist (and Cornish instructor) Peter Mack will join the ensemble for the piece, as well as for another Herrmann gem, a bit from the composer’s concerto score for the 1945 film noir “Hangover Square.”
Also on the bill is Mussorgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain” (the Stokowski orchestration) and Elgar’s orchestration for Chopin’s Funeral March.
“That’s my program: a romantic look at death,” says Stern.
Stern is particularly happy to have been tapped by Seattle Symphony to conduct “Psycho,” which he did for the organization in 2009.
“ ‘Psycho’ gets my vote for greatest film score ever written, period,” he says.
Having said that, Stern notes a brief but significant difference in Herrmann’s score this time around. Anyone who knows “Psycho” will recall those screaming violins popping up several times during the movie — including the film’s extraordinary, jump-in-your-seat climax.
That’s not what you’ll hear this time.
“Hitchcock opted to bring back the violins’ cue for that scene,” Stern says. “But the first music Herrmann pitched for it was actually based on an earlier composition of his, a very turbulent, dissonant, almost whirling dervish of a dance. So for this presentation, that initial inspiration of Herrmann’s has been reinstated. In its way, it’s even more hair-raising than the version most people are used to.”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org