Monster mash

The symphony gets freaky tonight.


Benaroya Recital Hall, Third and Union, 215-4747, $20 7:30 p.m. Thurs., Nov. 1

ONE CORNER of the repertory neglected by the Seattle Symphony is postwar European music. Which is not to blame the SSO for its laudable attention to American and Asian music. But the appearance of a German name on the program for this Thursday's "Music of Our Time" concert is a notable event, especially since the composer, HK Gruber, will be here to perform it himself. We'll hear his best-known work: Frankenstein!! A pan-demonium for baritone chansonnier and ensemble, a setting of 18 whimsically macabre children's poems by H.C. Artmann.

Gruber's diverse musical career began with the Vienna Choir Boys and later veered from the traditional (studies at the Vienna Hochschule fr Musik) to the avant-garde—stints as a bassist with new-music group die reihe and as a founder of the Viennese "MOB art and tone ART" ensemble. It was for this group that Gruber devised the first version of Frankenstein!! in 1971; he later reworked the piece for full orchestra and re-reworked it for chamber orchestra. The SSO will play the latter version, scored for a one-of-everything instrumental ensemble that also includes lots of squeaking, honking, and thumping toys, including one of those plastic corrugated hoses that moan melodically when you whirl it overhead.

The instrumental backdrop to the poems is full of sly scurrying sounds—sometimes silly, sometimes rude and in-your-face, but mostly creepy and insinuating. Bits of rhumbas and tangos float by, stirred into a stew richly flavored with the vernacular styles of composers like Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler. The text evokes not only the usual Halloweeny suspects—vampires, werewolves, and the title monster—but also creatures from pop culture: John Wayne, Superman, James Bond. Gruber's over- the-top delivery of the verses includes singing, speaking, rhythmic recitation, growls, shrieks, and demoniacally rolled r's. Imagine the emcee from Cabaret reading the work of a demented Mitteleuropean Shel Silverstein; or perhaps William Walton and Edith Sitwell's Facade filtered through a Tim Burton nightmare. It's an excitingly daring choice for the SSO—a harbinger, I hope, of more contemporary European music to come.

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