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Symphony’s music will be out of this world

Thu., March 5, 2009, midnight

The world of classical music is big – very big.

The Spokane Symphony, Music Director Eckart Preu and the Symphony Chorale will take this weekend’s audiences at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox on an interplanetary adventure that features Gustav Holst’s suite “The Planets,” complete with NASA photos.

The concerts Saturday and Sunday will open with the first movement of Olivier Messiaen’s “L’Ascension” and also include Two Interludes from Ernest Bloch’s opera “Macbeth,” along with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Isle of the Dead.”

“We try to get programmatic coherence with the concerts we give,” Preu says. “Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t work, and sometimes it doesn’t matter.

“But this time we wanted to play Holst’s ‘Planets,’ one of the greatest warhorses of all times. And I wanted to put with it some music that people don’t know so well, but that should be played.

“What connects these pieces is the ease with which people can visualize what is going on in them.”

The symphony’s use of the NASA photos goes beyond merely projecting single photos of each of the seven planets in Holst’s suite.

“This is an interactive program with many photos that are keyed to change as the music moves forward,” Preu says.

“What Holst does in this whole suite has set the model for every movie score involving outer space ever since it was written,” he says. “It is amazing how the sounds Holst created carry over into those scores without necessarily being imitated exactly. Just listen to John Williams in ‘Star Wars’ and there it is.”

The performance will feature the women of Symphony Chorale in “Neptune,” at the end the last movement.

“But you don’t see the chorus, they are offstage,” Preu says, “then suddenly there is that sound. What is it? Where does it come from. It is an amazing moment coming out of nowhere.”

In addition to the NASA photographs, Preu says there may be projections of art for some of the other works on this weekend’s program.

“I think it would be interesting for the audience to see Arnold Böcklin’s ‘Isle of the Dead’ to know what inspired Rachmaninoff to write his symphonic poem,” he says.

Rachmaninoff admitted that he had never seen the original of Böcklin painting, only a black-and-white reproduction of it.

“Maybe thinking of it in black-and-white, even if we saw a color projection, might lead us into the way Rachmaninoff paints this scene so darkly,” Preu says.

The symphony has not previously performed music by Messiaen, so far as Preu knows.

“This season, orchestras are performing a lot of his music since he was born 100 years ago last December,” the conductor says.

“I think it is important to hear his music, but since so much of it is very long, we decided to do just the first movement of ‘L’Ascension.’ It is very colorful and uses quite a lot of brass, and those sections sometimes don’t get a chance to play much.”

The other rarities in this weekend’s concerts are the Two Interludes from Bloch’s “Macbeth,” an opera written when the composer was still in his 20s.

“I don’t know anybody who has seen a performance of the opera,” Preu says. “I think it has pretty much disappeared from the theater, but these two interludes are like Weber in the overture to ‘Der Freischütz,’ they tell the story and convey the moods without any action being required.”

Preu will discuss the music on the program one hour before each performance as part of the Gladys Brooks Pre-Concert Talks series.

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