Music Review

Holst’s 'The Planets' sends N.C. Symphony soaring

CorrespondentFebruary 2, 2013 

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The N.C. Symphony has an admirable record of finding ways to appeal to the broadest of audiences without resorting to dumbed-down gimmicks.

Friday night’s concert was a perfect example, a program of music associated with space exploration, enhanced with an arresting visual component.

Gustav Holst’s 1918 composition “The Planets” has long been a popular classical work. The appeal of its seven movements (Earth and Pluto are excluded) is their wide range of musical styles, each planet clearly defined. Holst was inspired by the mythological characters the planets were named for rather than their astronomical attributes, yet the music conjures strong images of the vastness and mystery of space.

Although additional visual aid is not really necessary for this work, the inclusion of a high-definition film of NASA images, projected on a huge screen above the orchestra, proved fascinating. The film has been sensitively timed to the music, with dramatic close-ups of craters and landscapes or slowly revealed rings and moons, often in split screen.

Resident conductor William Henry Curry successfully kept the musical performance at the forefront, urging the players to vividly evoke the fiery intensity of Mars, the misty calm of Venus and the overwhelming power of Jupiter.

Throughout, there was wonderful clarity, precision and richness, with the percussion section having a field day in the rafter-rattling sections.

Special praise goes to the women of the N.C. Master Chorale, whose eerie, wafting vocals offstage trailed off into nothingness at the conclusion of the Neptune movement.

The concert’s first half had music associated with popular sci-fi films, beginning with the fanfare from Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra” and Johann Strauss Jr.’s “Blue Danube” waltz, both used in “2001.”

An arrangement of music used in “Star Trek” films and TV shows made a strong impression with its lush, romantic melodies and stirring martial cadences. The battle sequence from John Williams’ “Star Wars” score was less effective, its disjointed structure and jagged dissonance begging for the visuals it was meant to accompany.

The nearly sold-out hall and enthusiastic response proved that innovative programming can make an orchestra concert a must-see.


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