Lizzo replaced Liszt midnight on Thursday, Oct. 31 in Woolsey Hall.

The venue, which hosts concerts and school-wide addresses throughout the year, was packed to capacity as students celebrated Halloween with the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s annual gleeful performance. This year, the show featured a silent film titled “A Night at the Movies.”

“The show was an extremely special experience, with a hundred percent engagement from everybody,” said Henry Shapard ’20, who conducted the show. “They’re very enthused every year, but this year in particular, the audience was so amazing. The orchestra really fed off of that, so that was really a blessing.”

The live soundtrack began with an excerpt from the “Star Wars” soundtrack and ranged from popular songs like “Toxic” by Britney Spears to pieces from YSO’s classical repertoire. The arrangements were partially recycled from last year’s Halloween show, “Stranger College Years,” with additions of new popular songs like Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts.”

This year’s show featured star Stella Vujic ’22 as Aidan, Christine Ramirez ’23 as Charlie and Jocelyn Ra ’22 as Billie. The show included cameo appearances from Yale College Dean Marvin Chun, presidential candidate Michael Bennet LAW ’93, the Whiffenpoofs and Nathan Chen ’22.

The show’s plot followed a sophomore violinist, Aidan, who becomes jealous of a first-year violinist, Billie. After Aidan’s attempts to ridicule Billie were foiled by University President Peter Salovey, she found a Skull and Bones VCR tape promising her the opportunity to get rid of her enemies. Aidan brought a group of friends, including Billie, to a theater, where they watched the 1968 film “Night of the Living Dead.”

Billie became trapped behind the camera, and the film’s zombies arrived at familiar buildings on campus. Desperately seeking to pull Billie back into the real world, Aidan and her best friend, Charlie, ran through the aisles of Woolsey Hall during the performance to call for help.

Aidan realized that in order to save Billie, she had to give her violin to her. After Billie began playing, she was transported from the screen into the real world, reuniting the cast members. 

Following the tradition set by years past, the production also featured a number of well-timed jokes about Yale, from the hard-to-open Silliman doors, to constant building construction, to an obligatory anti-Harvard quip.

Audience reception was primarily positive. Oscar Wang ’23 called it “mind-blowingly amazing,” and Max Moen ’23 said the first violinists’ Seurat painting group costume was his favorite among the group costumes.

Before the concert, YSO musicians collectively emphasized their excitement to play in front of classmates who do not ordinarily attend YSO concerts. Tickets sold out in 25 minutes when they were released on Oct. 21 — a slightly less frantic purchase window than the two-minute ticket scramble of 2017.

In the past, the orchestra has outsourced directing and filmmaking to students not in the orchestra. But this year, YSO members spearheaded the process.

“This [concert] is really special because YSO members are really taking leadership,” Vujic, a producer, actor and violinist, said.

In recent years, the YSO has created spin-off productions of popular TV shows and films. Last year’s show was a spoof on “Stranger Things,” and the 2017 performance was a Yale-focused remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” both of which were alluded to in the film as Aidan flipped through movie selections. According to Gleberman, the production team wanted to deviate from that pattern with the original script.

The bulk of planning and production belonged to a small team within the YSO. Ryan Zhou ’22, the show’s director, wrote it alongside Charlie Gleberman ’22 and Spencer Parish ’20.

According to Vujic, the team plotted the show’s storyline and script over the summer and began filming on Aug. 31. The production team gathered every weekend for a month to film. Vujic acknowledged that the orchestra does not wish to devote much rehearsal time to this concert due to their already rigorous concert schedule.

YSO President Epongue Ekille ’21 described the concert as a “really welcome break from the rest of the season.”

The history of YSO’s Halloween concert stretches back to 1975, when the costumed student symphony played Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique.” The humorous Yale-themed film production was added in the 90s. The show’s longevity attests to its popularity. According to Ekille, the annual tradition garners the largest Yale crowd apart from the yearly Harvard-Yale football game.

Before the Thursday night performance, the orchestra came together to practice its program three times and attend a pre-show screening of the film. Outside the starring roles of Aidan, Billie and Charlie, played by YSO orchestra members, many other orchestra members, including new players, made appearances in the film as extras.

The details of the film were shrouded in mystery until the performance on Thursday.

The show was also recorded and live streamed.


Emily Tian |