Music & Magic: Battle Creek Symphony brings Fantasia back to the stage

Under the baton of Anne Harrigan, the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra will take the audience at W.K. Kellogg Auditorium to Bald Mountain, the Pines of Rome and beyond with the Walt Disney classic Fantasia

Harrigan, artistic director and BCSO director, said the opening song, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Sebastian Bach, will feature organist Karl Schrock, adjunct professor of organ at Western Michigan University. The organ Schrock is playing was the last showcase organ built by Ernest Martin Skinner, one of America’s best-known pipe organ builders, for Kellogg Auditorium in the early 1930s.

“The organ and the orchestra will go back and forth, and people will be able to hear the 4,000 pipes of the Skinner organ,” Harrigan said. “Then we’ll go into the best-known pieces, such as Night on Bald Mountain, which is wonderful, spooky music often synonymous with Halloween. It really drives the imagination.”

Copyright restrictions prevent the use of images from the movie during the symphony’s performance, but Harrigan said the music allows the audience to conjure up their own interpretations.

The first half of the concert ends with a performance of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The second half features the Pines of Rome, a four-movement symphonic poem for orchestra that was featured in the movie’s sequel, Fantasia 2000.

Harrigan said this part of the movie takes place in a park where children are playing. The four movements include Pines Near a Catacomb and Pines of the Nightingale, culminating with Pines of the Appian Way, which is famous for the images it conjures of soldiers marching.

“The music gets louder and louder and louder. It’s actually the reason I picked that program because I love that piece that much,” Harrigan said. “I picked my favorite ones and thought the audience was going to love them too.”

The staying power of the movie has plenty to do with music that a lot of people can relate to from their childhoods, according to Harrigan.

“I had a woman who had attended the premiere performance in Philadelphia in 1940 come up to me and give me the program book from that performance,” she said. “It would not be as iconic as it is without thinking of Mickey Mouse, the sorcerer, the water and the broom.”

The hugely successful Fantasia came about after a chance meeting between composer Leopold Stokowski and Walt Disney at a restaurant in Los Angeles. Stokowski told Disney that he had always wanted to put animation and music together, and Fantasia was brought to life along with a major launch for Mickey Mouse with the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Although this is the fourth time Harrigan has conducted this particular program, it is her first with the BCSO.

“The quality of the writing and the drastic nature of the storytelling really send imagination to flights of fancy and that’s the way they use the orchestra,” Harrigan said. “We have 70 musicians onstage and different, colorful percussion and woodwinds. All of the composers knew how to make use of all of the instruments an orchestra has to make it interesting.” 

The orchestra will be joined onstage by Levi Powe, a 17-year-old cello player from Tucson, Ariz., who bested eight other semifinalists in February to win the coveted Sphinx Competition in Detroit. The competition is sponsored by the Sphinx Organization, a nonprofit based in Detroit dedicated to the development of young Black and Latino classical musicians.

Powe also will join symphony musicians for two performances specifically for area high school students.

Harrigan said she’s looking forward to conducting each of the three performances and hopes to see families represented in the audience for Fantasia.

“It’s very accessible and very colorful, and this is why these pieces were chosen in the first place,” Harrigan said. “It’s a series of short pieces, which is always a good way to introduce children to the symphony. The concert is also a little bit shorter, because we do want to encourage families.”


W.K. Kellogg Auditorium
50 W. Van Buren St., 
Battle Creek
March 2, 7:30 p.m.