Westmoreland Symphony to perform 'The Planets'

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Science and art will join forces Saturday at the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” Along with the 75-piece orchestra, the production will include NASA images and narration by University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg physics and astronomy professor Todd Brown.

“Several symphonies have shown images of planets while performing. But an invited speaker is a way to give the audience signposts with the music,” said Daniel Meyer, artistic director for the symphony. “The emphasis is on our fascination with what’s beyond the earth.”

The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Palace Theatre in Greensburg.

During the first half of the performance, the orchestra will play separately each of the piece’s seven movements — one for each of the planets, except Earth, that were known in 1916, when the piece was written. Mr. Brown will lend the scientific details as each is musically represented.

“Some of the pictures are from the two rovers on Mars, including one that should have failed two years ago,” he said.

The images they’ve sent to Earth show the layered rock which explains to scientists the planet’s history.

“I hope everyone in the auditorium gets a feel for what NASA can do and the technical advancements that are applied to life here on Earth,” Mr. Brown said.

The movement entitled, “Mars, the Bringer of War,” is influenced by the aggressive mythical Latin god.

“It’s where we hear the sonic blast in the piece,” Mr. Meyer said.

In contrast, “Venus, the Bringer of Peace,” represents the goddess of love and is melodic and serene. Unlike its musical namesake, the planet of the morning sky has a temperature that would melt lead and an atmosphere full of sulfuric acid, Mr. Brown noted. “But the ancient people didn’t know that.”

“Neptune, the Mystic” symbolizes the planet that was considered the farthest from Earth at the time the piece was composed. The stringed instruments in the “upper reaches to stimulate the imagination” will be complemented by the 25-member Concentus Choir of Westmoreland County. The women will not sing words but “oohs and aahs” to represent other--worldy sounds, Mr. Meyer said.

Modern composers of the scores for today’s space adventure movies, such as John Williams of "Star Wars," were greatly influenced by Holst, Mr. Meyer said.

He said the concert should be entertaining for all ages as well as for those who have never been to a symphony concert.

“Hopefully, we picked out some neat pictures, and I hope to get young children hooked on science,” Mr. Brown said.

He noted that no movement was written for Pluto because it was not discovered until 1930. Pluto, however, lost it planet status in 2006.

Details: westmorelandsymphony.org or 724-837-1850.

Laurie Bailey, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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