Cleveland Orchestra makes more than Holst Planets align, as they explore new frontiers of experiences with classical music

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Mon, 12/11/2006 - 01:02.

It is always a pleasure and privilege to see the Cleveland Orchestra perform at Severance Hall, but their presentation of Gustav Holst's "The Planets" was unique and special. This is a great creative set of compositions, being composed in 1914-1916 as highly expressive, at times avant-garde voyages to each of the planets known at the time, long before man had physically probed space, and no man has probed space more aptly than did Holst. And, I doubt any men and women could probe the complexities of these compositions more ably than does the Cleveland Orchestra.

The Sunday matinee performance I attended, at 3:00 PM, on December 10, 2006, began with the brief 1800-01 overture to the ballet "The Creatures of Prometheus", by Ludwig van Beethoven. While the evening programs from this series also featured an English horn concerto by Borem, this matinee did not, making for a very short afternoon program well suited to young audiences - and there were some very small children enjoying the event.

And event is the word, as the stage was set with a full assemblage of all imaginable instruments... all the usual strings, woodwinds, and brass, and two harps, an organ, and enough drums, cymbals, triangles, gongs and other loud, brash objects to keep five percussionists very busy. Above all that was a huge screen hung over the musicians, as this musical presentation of "The Planets" was billed to include a video animation and film production of the same planets represented in sound, complimented through results of decades of space exploration by NASA.

To make this event more of a phenomonon, after the Beethoven overture was done, guest conductor Michael Stern was joined at the podium by Case University physics professor and space and science fiction expert Lawrence Krauss, making his Severance Hall debut as narrator of an absorbing and entertaining interpretation of the work and planets explored. Lawrence was billed to narrate some of the performances of The Planets, but not expected at our performance today, so seeing him walk out was a great thrill, and his participation was a real treasure.

While I can't say I am a space exploration enthusiast, nor knowledgeable about astronomy, having Krauss tell the audience a bit about the planets begin explored, in music and video, really set the stage for me in a unique way that made the concert especially refreshing and insightful. So, now, picture the stage - a huge orchestra (with an Oberlin Conservatory of Music chorus in the rafters, somewhere) - a huge screen - and a physicist with a microphone. The result was astounding, as the music and video flowed together in a magical scene that was so much greater than the sum of those pieces as to be a breakthrough in music appreciation, for me.

I can't say I want every, or many, Cleveland Orchestra performances to be so designed, for me, but my 13 year old daughter loved what she saw, and I believe so did everyone else in the house. This is a wonderful introduction for all people to very complex and challenging classical music, and knowledge about the planets, and a highly entertaining performance for all. It is so exciting to see the innovative work of the orchestra in our home town, and the collaboration with Lawrence Krauss, of Case University, and the integration of video with this performance... I was proud to be from and in Cleveland, today.

In further appreciation, I was able to come in for the performance, from Ohio City, in 30 minutes, including finding a free parking space nearby, enthralled, and home in just about two hours. Try that anywhere else in the world.

Space and music -- equally amazing and beautiful!

I had never heard the entire "Planets"; I recognized exerpts I heard in movies, but I never realized what an extraordinary piece it is. I found it amazing thinking about Holst composing something so beautiful and brilliant -- yet knowing so little about the planets compared to what we know now.  I came away with a new appreciation for science and music.