Pso Heavenly with 'Planets'; Local Composers' Works Shine

By Bloom, Elizabeth | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), February 8, 2014 | Go to article overview

Pso Heavenly with 'Planets'; Local Composers' Works Shine


Bloom, Elizabeth, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Friday night's Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performance was out of this world as the concert showcased Holst's "The Planets" alongside a film of images and animations of space.

The feature presentation was "The Planets -- An HD Odyssey," by director and producer Duncan Copp, which has been shown at performances by several professional orchestras, such as the Houston Symphony and the New York Philharmonic.

The film's stills and videos included some imagery provided by NASA, along with animations, all of which were often timed to move or match with the music. The experience was, in a word, cool. Some of the visually arresting images were works of art unto themselves - - colorful, gray, still, moving, broad and detailed -- and the effect of the film matched or even, at times, enhanced the music.

In "Mars, the Bringer of War," pictures of the planet's surface scrolled at different speeds. Venus' milky surface played well off music director Manfred Honeck's sensitive conducting. In "Neptune, the Mystic," bluish hues highlighted poignant sonorities, also smoothly delivered by women from the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh. Landscapes inspired awe, while craters juxtaposed musical textures with planetary ones.

At times, the movie toed the line between majestic and cheesy. During "Mars," shifts in images provided undue emphasis on music that needs no help. And in "Jupiter," the quick-moving pictures felt like a screensaver. Still, the film made for a special concert experience, and an expressive PSO performance only enriched the overall effect.

The concert began on Earth, with the PSO commission and world premiere of "The Elements." It is really five small pieces about Pittsburgh's land and history, written by local composers for the orchestra's Year of Pittsburgh Composers. The sections, each about five minutes long, had immediacy and, thanks to the Pittsburgh theme, relevance. …

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