Whodunit? San Diego Symphony to stage mystery/concert for all ages: ‘The Composer Is Dead’

'The Composer Is Dead' is a musical-murder mystery coming to Copley Symphony Hall in downtown San Diego, Oct. 20, 2019.

If you’re a fan of Lemony Snicket — and who isn’t? — you probably don’t think of the author of those weirdly engaging books about a trio of orphans called “A Series of Unfortunate Events” (now also a Netflix series) as someone likely to write for a full orchestra. But on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019 at Copley Symphony Hall, “The Composer Is Dead,” a concert piece by Nathaniel Stookey with text by Lemony Snicket, will make its first and only live appearance in San Diego with the San Diego Symphony.

Stookey, the very-much-alive composer of the 30-minute piece, is a multi-award winner who received his first commission at age 17 and has been collaborating with major orchestras ever since. “The Composer Is Dead,” originally commissioned, premiered and recorded by the San Francisco Symphony in 2006, is a kind of 21st-century “Peter & the Wolf” or “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” but with more laughs and a murder mystery to be solved.

The question it poses is: Who in Symphony Hall could have killed the composer?

With Stookey’s music ranging from waltz to techno to menacing fanfare (and Lemony Snicket’s sometimes killingly funny narration), kids and adults in the audience will be introduced to the instruments in the orchestra, any of which could be the guilty one. Naturally, all have motives and alibis, and clues are provided along the way.

Lemony Snicket was the narrator in the San Francisco production and on the recording. There was also a book, published in 2009, with illustrations by Carson Ellis — another award-winner. Some of those images will be projected on a screen above the orchestra, and the narrator here will be Humberto Borboa, a tenor born in Mexicali who has performed all over Mexico and the United States and now lives in San Diego with his wife, Jovahnna, and their dog, Frank.

The 50-minute concert will include another seasonally appropriate piece, Saint-Saens’ “Danse Macabre,” and Ernesto Lecuona’s “Malagueña.” In the lobby, an hour beforehand, there will be kid-friendly activities like an instrument petting zoo, face-painting, and a chance to dance to the rhythms of dancer/musician Nomsa Burckhardt from the Center for World Music. It all sounds like a fun-filled prelude to Halloween and the Mexican Day of the Dead. To get even more into the Hallow/Day spirit, see the box for “A Trio of Free, Dead-Friendly Coming Events.”

IF YOU GO:The Composer is Dead,” 2 p.m. (pre-concert activities start at 1 p.m.) Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019 at Copley Symphony Hall, 750 B St., downtown San Diego. Tickets: $10-$25. (619) 235-0805.

Humberto Borboa will be the narrator for 'The Composer Is Dead,' coming to Copley Symphony Hall in downtown San Diego, Oct. 20, 2019.
Humberto Borboa will be the narrator for ‘The Composer Is Dead,’ coming to Copley Symphony Hall in downtown San Diego, Oct. 20, 2019.


Trio of free ‘dead-friendly’ events

1) California Center for the Arts’ 24th annual Day of the Dead Festival: 5-9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1, 340 N. Escondido Blvd., Escondido. View altars in the courtyard and, if you wish, bring photos and small objects to create your own altar to lost loved ones. Live music, ballet folklorico, DIY sugar skulls, crafts vendors, food trucks and more. Stop in at the museum for their Silver Anniversary Exhibition, and don’t miss the hallway of student art, much of it relating to the Day of the Dead. (800) 988-4253.

2) Bazaar del Mundo Days of the Dead Celebration: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday on Oct. 31, Nov. 1 and 2; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3, 4133 Taylor St., Old Town San Diego. Self-guided altar walk, with 40-some altars at Old Town shops, pick up maps at Casa Guadalajara. Food court, beer garden, mariachi bands, lifesize skeleton Catrinas, traditional dancers and guest artists.

3) Day of the Dead at The Old Globe Theatre: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3, Old Globe AXIS event with singing, dancing, theatrical performance, face-painting, sugar-skull decorating and community altars, The Old Globe Theatre’s Copley Plaza in Balboa Park, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego.