Symphony's 'Planets' to offer an otherworldly experience Gustav Holst set to music his astrological leanings

February 02, 1996|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Gustav Holst completed his most famous musical composition back in 1916, his listeners grasped immediately that they were hearing something that was literally and figuratively out of this world.

For in "The Planets," the magnificent, seven-movement orchestral suite, the British public heard a remarkably expressive work touched by astrology, Eastern mysticism, classical mythology and the modern world's impending fascination with outer space.

Local concertgoers will be able to enjoy their own interplanetary musical encounter this weekend at Maryland Hall as conductor Gisele Ben-Dor and the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra present "The Planets" in performances at 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow.

Ms. Ben-Dor's program also includes the suite from Dmitri Shostakovich's ballet "Age of Gold" and the popular Piano Concerto No. 1 of Tchaikovsky played by American pianist Tzimon Barto, one of the premier keyboard artists in the EMI recording stable.

Early in his career, Holst became intensely interested in Eastern metaphysical writings, going so far as to set verses of Hinduism's "Rig Veda" text to music.

But it was his developing passion for astrology that would clinch the deal and bring "The Planets" to life. It is the astrological subtitles of the heavenly bodies that give each of the seven movements their unique musical characters. (There are only seven movements because Earth wasn't included and Pluto had yet to be discovered when Holst was composing.)

Thus "Mars, Bringer of War" snaps angrily with incessant rhythmic underpinnings in 5/4 time as it flexes its muscles in climaxes of brilliant power. "Saturn, Bringer of Old Age" also is a bit on the darker side.

"Venus, Bringer of Peace" and "Neptune, The Mystic" give the work its moments of lovely repose. Neptune, with its wordless off-stage female voices imparting an ethereal quality, is particularly striking.

"Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity" provides syncopated wit and boisterous good fun, by Jove, while "Mercury, Winged Messenger" and "Uranus, The Magician" also are cast in a lighter mode with witty, pungently rhythmic interludes abounding.

Live performances of "The Planets" are special occasions, indeed, if only for the heavy orchestral forces required. An alto flute, celesta, multiple harps, that behind-the-scenes women's choir, and an enormous complement of percussion will augment the usual ASO contingent.

For ticket prices and reservations, call 269-1132.

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