The Florida Orchestra brings Haunted Halls Family Concert just in time for Halloween

The concert happens on Oct. 30 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.
Musicians from The Florida Orchestra dressed up as The Incredibles for a past Haunted Halls Family Concert. The concert happens at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Oct. 30, 2022.
Musicians from The Florida Orchestra dressed up as The Incredibles for a past Haunted Halls Family Concert. The concert happens at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Oct. 30, 2022. [ Courtesy of The Florida Orchestra ]
Published Oct. 20, 2022|Updated Oct. 20, 2022

Just in time for Halloween, The Florida Orchestra brings a full orchestra concert of music inspired by the spooky season. Guests are encouraged to dress up in costume, as the orchestra musicians will, too.

The concert is conducted by new assistant conductor Chelsea Gallo, who also programmed it. The show includes music from “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Jaws” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” as well the classics “Dance Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens and Edvard Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” Suite No. 1. Op. 46: IV, “In the Hall of The Mountain King.” Prior to the show, guests can try out instruments at the Instrument Petting Zoo.

Chelsea Gallo joins The Florida Orchestra as assistant conductor in Fall 2022.
Chelsea Gallo joins The Florida Orchestra as assistant conductor in Fall 2022. [ JIM VAN LUVEN | Courtesy of The Florida Orchestra ]

It will run one hour with no intermission.

Gallo chatted with the Tampa Bay Times about her selections and what makes music sound spooky. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Take us through the concert’s programming.

So when we get a chance to do a concert like this, where it’s really about the entertainment but also about that first look for younger audience members about what a symphony orchestra can do, for me, I kind of think about it almost as a piece of theater. You know, how do we develop through the music? Where do we want to end up, what is the attention span for our audience? What can we do with the time we’re given to really showcase the power of a symphony orchestra? And to me that was finding pieces with great stories, with great opportunities for costumes, of course, for Halloween and pieces that you can look at and say, “Wow, I had no idea an orchestra could do that.”

“Peer Gynt” is a familiar piece that’s been used in many instances of pop culture. What makes it so spooky?

So there’s two ways to answer it. There’s one that’s very technical, some of the use of the instruments and what they can do. The whole piece starts off with this very ominous hunting call from the French horns in the back of the orchestra and you think, “Wait, where is it coming from?” first of all, and second, “What is actually being heralded to start hunting?” And the music itself develops as if far away coming toward you, very encroaching. And ... it creates the fear of you being approached by something unknown. You have to decide, is it running toward me or am I running away from it? There’s a huge buildup and toward the end, you’ve got these huge hammer strikes from the orchestrator like “Wait, did they catch me or did I catch it?” ... It’s a wonderful piece of music that has kind of been relegated to being on Halloween programs. But the reason it’s so popular and the reason it appears in popular culture is because it’s just, frankly, a good piece of music that we have fun playing, and audiences love to relate to.

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Saint-Saëns’ “Dance Macabre” sounds ominous.

Once again, there’s two really specific reasons why it gives off that spooky element. One musical technical reason is that the solo violin at the start is not a normal violin. It’s actually mistuned; it’s scordatura violin. It creates this tritone interval; you’d call it an incorrect interval. In music history, it was called the devil’s interval, because it doesn’t occur naturally. It’s not really pleasing for our ears. But Saint-Saëns takes it, twist it up, puts it against rhythms and other orchestral instruments that make it sound like the devil himself has shown up.

The theme from “Jaws” is immediately recognizable and so scary. How did John Williams achieve that?

When John Williams brought the idea of “Jaws” to (Steven) Spielberg, he laughed at him. John Williams showed up and said, hey, I got two notes for you, and it’s going to be your villain. Spielberg said, you got to be kidding me. And John Williams said, no, this is it, it’s “da-dum da-dum.” It highlights the origins of great film music within the history of classical art music, and also it ties into what I said earlier about “Peer Gynt.” The reason it’s so effective is because you have this idea of something from somewhere that you don’t know approaching. It’s very stepwise, and stepwise music means the notes are right next to each other. So with “Jaws,” the idea of literally coming out of the deep because the music starts with the lowest instruments in the orchestra possible. You’re getting no tonal center. You’re given affect and then you’re given two notes, and that’s your villain. It’s brilliant.

You’re going to hear the double basses, the really big string instruments in the back of the orchestra ... play these low notes as low as possible as (an) instrument can go, but you’re also going to be able to see the pianist onstage because this piece called for a piano to be played as well. You’ll see the pianist put his hand inside of the instrument, not on the keys, but inside of the strings of the piano, playing the lower end of the strings inside the piano to kind of highlight what we subconsciously perceive as ocean depth. ... It’s really an amazing effect.

If you go

Haunted Halls Family Concert. $10-$20; free for children 3 and younger. 2 p.m. Oct. 30. Mahaffey Theater. 400 First St. S. 727-892-3331.