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‘Frankenstein!!’ and other inspired SPCO horseplay this Halloween weekend

Composer H.K. Gruber refers to it as “A Pan-Demonium for Chansonnier and Ensemble,” and the two exclamation points he affixes to the title character further foreshadows the scary/silly emphasis he places on its musical high jinks. We’re talking about “Frankenstein!!” — an ideal Halloween extravaganza destined to spook up the usually reverent and august confines of Wooddale Church and the Ordway Center this weekend.

Originally composed in 1971 and premiered seven years later, “Frankenstein!!” will show off Gruber’s triple-threat talents. In addition to conducting the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the 66-year old composer will be talk-singing his way through H.C. Artmann’s absurdist poetry, which serves as the chansonnier’s libretto in the madcap piece.

Meanwhile, the orchestra will be playing devices more closely associated as props for the comedian Carrot Top than musical instruments, including a plastic hosepipe, swanee whistles, baby rattles, paper bags and toy clarinets and saxophones. If you like the movies of Tim Burton, with their delicious mixture of faux menace, kitsch and dazzling coloration, you’ll get a big kick out of “Frankenstein!! A Pan-Demonium for Chansonnier and Ensemble.”

But that isn’t even the big news regarding this weekend’s Gruber-SPCO collaboration. The program will also include the U.S. premiere of Gruber’s trumpet concerto, “Busking,” which uses banjo, accordion and bits of improvisation to capture the off-the-cuff, troubadour spirit conveyed in the title. The star turns on trumpet will be handled by Hakan Hardenberger, who performed the work at its world premiere in Amsterdam in May 2008, and who was the trumpeter Gruber had in mind when he wrote the piece.

Gruber, who just last month succeeded James MacMillan as the composer/conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, rounds out the program with two relatively conventional works. The concert will begin with Paul Hindemith’s “Kleine Kammermusi for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon.” The fourth piece will be Igor Stravinsky’s “Concertina for Two Violins, Viola and Cello,” performed by The Parker Quartet, the SPCO’s Young Artists in Residence.

There appears to be precious little video footage of Gruber conducting. But here he is singing “Der Herr Nordwind,” and here is his playful vocal on “Solidaritatslied.”

Composer/conductor HK Gruber and trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger with the SPCO, at 10:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. Friday at the Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, and at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Ordway Center in St. Paul;  tickets are $10 to $25 at Wooddale and $11 to $59 at the Ordway.

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