The annual Yale Symphony Orchestra Halloween show at Woolsey Hall was met with its usual raucous applause and a full turnout Monday night, despite reflecting structural changes that deviated from previous years’ shows.
“The Grand Salovey Hotel” — written by Connor Szostak ’17 and directed by Morgan Jackson ’18 — was an hourlong film parody of Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Szostak described the screenplay as filled with fun characters, myriad locations and physical comedy, describing the film as following a “classical comedic format” that was both fun and accessible while also allowing room for musical flexibility.
“This year’s Halloween show has had more involvement from outside the YSO than ever before,” Jackson said. “This is the first time we’ve used a script written by someone other than the director, and also the first time we’ve had a separate director of photography and editor for the film.”
Jackson added that increased coordination between non-YSO members resulted in a “more polished final product” than in previous years. Similarly, Rachel Troy ’19 noted that the show highlighted the immense talent of both the YSO and the directors and writers who helped put the show together.
With a budget of only $500 — one-tenth of the budget for last year’s class film — Jackson said that it was in the film crew’s best interest to minimize costs and generate creative solutions. According to Jackson, this was accomplished by finding locations in which they could film without being charged and identifying free props.
“Two weekends before Halloween, we had a rough cut of the film and had planned to have everything finished, but the film felt short and like the beginning of the film could use a lot more content,” Jackson explained, adding that producers Evan Pasternak ’19 and Sarah Switzer ’19 stepped into the role of directors over fall break to film additional montages that ended up in the beginning of the film.
Jackson said that, as director, he cut the script to a feasible eight-week project within its budget constraints, reached out to YSO members for pop song soundtrack arrangements and organized publicity efforts — the latter of which has historically been unnecessary for a show that sells out within minutes, sometimes even seconds. This year, the show sold out in 10 minutes.
Szostak, who started writing screenplays in an introductory film class about a year ago, said this is the first major project he has written that other people have produced.
YSO Music Director Toshiyuki Shimada highlighted security as a top priority for the popular event.
“I have full confidence in our students coming up with a super show, so our challenges are in the front of house,” he said. “We spend a large part of our Halloween show budget to hire the safety personnel.”
According to Shimada, this year marks the second time the YSO Halloween show has been live-streamed, which allows alumni, parents and students who were not able to secure a ticket to enjoy the performance remotely.
This year’s film adhered to previous Halloween show traditions, including cameos Zendaya Coleman, among others. The film also reincorporated a live acting segment into the show, a Halloween film tradition that Szostak said was dead for a number of years.
Concertmistress Annabel Chyung ’19 highlighted the significance of an orchestral accompaniment, especially in a silent film. Chyung said that the music heightens the film’s atmosphere, from dramatic to romantic moods, and climaxes in accordance with the movie’s plot.
“The Halloween show is a great and arguably rare opportunity on campus to live in the moment,” said YSO principal double bass player Connor Reed ’19. “I think and hope most people come each year expecting to take advantage of that.”
Szostak, who sat in on a rehearsal the evening before the show, said the orchestral accompaniment ties the thematic material together in a beautiful but subtle way that he hoped the audience would appreciate.
According to both Chyung and Reed, by the time of the Halloween show, the YSO had only completed three full rehearsals.
“It’s pretty difficult at first because we have a lot of cuts within the music to organize amongst ourselves, and then we have to make sure that the music and transitions match up with the movie,” she explained.
Chyung also noted that orchestra members had the chance to play extras in the film while it was being produced earlier on in the semester.
Elias Brown ’17, a YSO member and one of the two musical directors of the Halloween show, described the show’s repertoire this year as “comfortable” for the orchestra and reflective of the canonical music played by the YSO throughout the year. Chyung highlighted the creative decision to include renditions of pop songs such as “Fight Song” and “Love Yourself” as an exciting departure from traditional works by the likes of Brahms and Dvorak. Jackson echoed this, and accurately predicted the audience’s excitement upon hearing a rendition of Foundation of Wayne’s 2003 pop hit “Stacy’s Mom.”
“Not only is it fun for the musicians to play new pieces, but it’s also a chance to give the audience an opportunity to hear other amazing works,” she said.
Most of the musical decisions were left to Morgan and worked out with the student musical directors for the show. As the first Halloween screenwriter outside of the YSO, Szostak said his involvement in the show was fairly limited outside of providing the script. Szostak said that he and Jackson discussed song ideas to correspond with certain parts of the script. While Szostak noted that most musical decisions were made by Jackson as well as the two musical directors, he was able to suggest songs and thematic changes.
Although music directors decide the Halloween show setlist months in advance, Brown said the final cut of the movie wasn’t finished until after the first rehearsal, and the process often felt like a “mad dash” towards the end.
Brown said that the audience historically exits Woolsey Hall upon hearing the YSO’s traditional last song “Everytime We Touch,” which concludes the show.
“Last night, however, was the first time in my four years of performing the Halloween show that the audience stayed long enough for the YSO to take a true bow,” he said.
Woolsey Hall seats 2,650 patrons.