COSTA MESA — It was a whodunit murder mystery and everyone was a suspect.
From the concertmaster dressed as a cook, to the bikers playing the bass instruments, to the violins and violas, no one was above suspicion. The murderer was the conductor, but that didn't turn out to be a bad thing.
"If you're going to hear the world's greatest composers, you're going to have to allow for a little murder," said narrator David Stoneman, who spoke all the parts in the performance.
The Costa Mesa-based Pacific Symphony — dressed in costumes — performed two "Halloween Whodunit" concerts Saturday morning for children and their families at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
Guest organist Kristen Lawrence opened the show with Bach's menacing "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" before the murder mystery, Nathaniel Stookey's composition "The Composer is Dead," with the accompanying text by Lemony Snicket, began.
The piece kept the children and parents laughing through Stoneman's narration as it highlighted each section in the orchestra and the individual instruments while explaining musical terms like conductor and concertmaster.
The murder wasn't such a mystery for 5-year-old Maya Bleszinski, who guessed the answer before the detective, but that didn't stop the girl, dressed as Rapunzel from the Disney animated film "Tangled," from enjoying herself, especially the final uplifting piece.
"I thought it was good," she said. "What I liked about it is that at the end, they played 'Ode to Joy.'"
The final piece, a portion of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, always captivates the audience, said conductor Maxim Eshkenazy.
It's inclusion, though, was also meant to show the children the other side of the organ, which is traditionally thought of as a spooky instrument, he said.
The concert is part of the symphony's Family Musical Mornings, a five-part double concert series for kids that kicked off Saturday with "Halloween Whodunit" and continues with "Nutcracker for Kids" on Dec. 10, "Symphony in Space" on Feb. 4, "Hansel and Gretel" on March 3 and "Happily Ever After" on May 12.
The concert is in a format that is easy to understand for kids with quick pieces with videos, actors and interactive elements, Eshkenazy said.
"It's very much in tune with the iPhone/MTV generation," he said.
The series, though, is also meant to introduce kids to instruments and musical concepts to teach them appreciation and increase their depth of knowledge, Eshkenazy said.
"I want to open a door for a life-long love [of classical music]," he said.
Those feelings was already blooming for 5-year-old Adalia Stiglich and 7-year-old Annette Gengler who said they "loved" the performance, and want to come back.
"I'd like to," said Annette, "even though I live all the way in Apple Valley."