Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra's 'The Planets' is a twist on Holst

09.25.11
The Planets-An HD Odyssey
Star-Telegram

By Olin Chism

Hardly had the UARS satellite come down from space when the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra went up -- to Mars, Jupiter and beyond.

This was a musical journey, not a space voyage, of course, and the music was Holst's The Planets.

Saturday night's journey, "The Planets: an HD Odyssey," was out of the ordinary in that NASA photos of the planets were projected onto a large screen suspended above the front of the Bass Hall stage as the orchestra played below.

The projections were not simply still shots but involved motion from NASA orbiters and ground rovers (in the case of Mars) as well as the illusion of motion by scrolling and shifting of camera angles.

All that was preceded by on-screen interviews with professional astronomers as well as slow-motion shots of the launch of what appeared to be a military rocket.

It might be argued that that had little to do with what Holst had in mind. He was inspired by the mythological deities for whom the planets were named, not the planets themselves.

But let's not be pedantic; combining Holst's music with the celestial bodies is a perfectly natural idea, even if, as one astronomer said, he got Venus all wrong.

A large audience certainly appreciated the show, and the orchestra under Andrés Franco's direction gave a powerful, major performance with some fine solo work such as concertmaster Michael Shih's spotlighted moment in Venus.

The video/audio combination didn't always work well stylistically ( Mars was best), but it was consistently a grand entertainment.

The evening had begun with another popular work, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Franco led a highly dramatic performance, with mighty brass and percussion sounds and a cohesive overall sound.

Alas, an approaching deadline left me stranded in space, unable to hear the final parts of The Planets and the Texas Christian University Chorale in Holst's haunting wordless chorus.