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The toys and trebles of 'Frankenstein!'

ASU Chamber Orchestra celebrates bicentennial of classic tale with music and a movie

With whistles, pipes, toy pianos and automobile horns, Arizona State University’s orchestral contribution to the "Frankenstein" bicentennial celebration looks to be almost as piecemeal as Mary Shelley’s famed monster.

But by the end of the concert, scheduled for Oct. 20 at ASU Gammage and Oct. 21 at the Mesa Arts Center, conductor Jeffery Meyer hopes his audience will have enjoyed a fun and frivolous F-sharp in the key of “Frankenstein!”

“It is surprisingly difficult to play the Swanee whistle in tune and to avoid hitting each other when swinging the plastic hose-pipes overhead!” said Meyer, the director of orchestras for the School of Music in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU. “However, we’ve had a tremendous amount of fun ‘learning’ these instruments and perhaps the most difficult thing is not to laugh out loud throughout the course of the piece.” 

Jeffery Meyer

That piece, H.K. Gruber’s 1970s gothic cantata “Pan-demonium,” is the score for the first half of ASU Chamber Orchestra’s presentation of “Frankenstein!” Conducted by Meyer, this unique performance features dozens of toy instruments alongside the vocal sounds of David Schildkret, the chansonnier tasked with performing a half-sung, half-spoken narrative of “spooky” children’s poems throughout the piece that blurs the line between classical and popular music with references to jazz and rock.

The second half of the concert will feature a screening of the 1931 film “Frankenstein,” accompanied by a live orchestral score written by Michael Shapiro in 2001.

“This is a chance to see the classic horror film in a completely new context with a live orchestra score,” Meyer said, noting that the original film was released without any form of musical enhancement.

Guests are invited to arrive an hour before each concert to participate in Frankenstein-related activities. They will also have the opportunity to explore the many facets of the Frankenstein story through innovative projects and perspectives from across the various disciplines at ASU that have been celebrating 200 years of the publication of Shelley’s fabled tale about a grotesque but knowing creature scientifically created from a patchwork of body parts.

“ASU Chamber Orchestra Presents ‘Frankenstein!’” is one of the final segments in ASU’s grant-fueled Frankenstein Bicentennial Project, which turned focus on questions such as “What is life?” “What does it mean to be human?” and “What are our responsibilities as creators?”

Some of the winning grant projects that were funded to promote a deeper reflection on the work and lasting relevance of Frankenstein will be on display in ASU Gammage. Among them:

• Ben Hurlbut and Gaymon Bennett, “What Makes a Monster a Monster? An Exploratory Dialog Among the Makers”

• Jeffrey Meyer, “Frankenstein: An Evening of Musical Perspectives on Frankenstein”

• Micah Lande, “A Really Modern Day Prometheus: Collaborative 3D Printed Bust of the Creature”

• Karla Moeller, “Building Frankenstein: A Physiology Game”

• Pamela Winfrey, Carlo Maley and Athena Aktipis, “This Beautiful Monster: Cancer Across Life”

“Don’t miss it,” Meyer said. “If there is one event that you decide to attend to celebrate and explore the 200th anniversary of the classic ‘Frankenstein’ story, this should be it.”

ASU Chamber Presents "Frankenstein!"

Where: ASU Gammage and Mesa Arts Center 

When: 7:30 pm Saturday, Oct. 20 (ASU Gammage) and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21 (Mesa Arts Center)

Admission: $7.50 plus fees for general admission (ASU Gammage); $15 plus fees for general admission (Mesa Arts Center) 

Top photos courtesy Pixabay