The Planets; an other wordly performance

The Planets
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Auckland Town Hall
February 19

That Gustav Holst composed his The Planets suite early on in the 20th century saved a lot of problems later on. Pluto was not discovered until 1930, so was not one of the planets the composer included in his work. So, with Pluto now being dropped by astronomers as one of the planets, his work doesn’t have to be seen as an oddity, just one of the great British musical works of the early 20th century.

Under the brilliant direction of Scottish conductor Garry Walker, the orchestra managed to give each of the sequences a thrilling interpretation, exploring their emotional and narrative themes. At times Mr Walker seemed carried away by the music, performing little dances and jigs, his hands and arms tracing out the music as though replicating planetary orbits.

From the relentless marching sounds in "Mars, The Bringer of War" through to the almost spiritual, "Neptune, The Mystic," where the wordless women’s chorus was sung by Viva Voce, there was an urgency and drama.

Although each of the sequences has a particular quality – Mars, dramatic and martial, Venus more tender and benign and Jupiter inspiring and nationalistic, there is a sense of the works inhabiting another world, as though the composer was carefully following arcane concepts about the movements of celestial bodies as a form of music.

Before the main work the orchestra played “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” a short piece by John Adams, a minimalist piece with slowly morphing themes over a rapid-fire wood block marking out the tempo which seemed to mesmerise Garry Walker into conducting like a human metronome.

Also on the programme was Ross Harris’ Violin Concerto played by Russian violinist Ilya Gringolts. In this work the violin playing initially seems tentative, as though the player is unsure of its trajectory.

The woodwinds and then orchestra followed the violin’s themes creating mysterious atonal landsacpes. The violin then proceeded to search out and interject more random and tentative themes, racing to discover seemingly lost sequences.

Ilya Gringolts performed with a total focus on his instrument with no ostentatious display. His restrained approach meant that the emotional urgency of the piece was conveyed purely through his total control and mercurial playing. He brought a sense of introspection to his playing as though he were the creator as well as the player of the work.

The APO’s next concert, Water and Light, on March 4 is one of the opening works of the Auckland Arts Festival and features Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina: Introduction, ‘Dawn on the Moscow River’, Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides Overture, Takemitsu’s I hear the water dreaming and Kenneth Young’s 'In Paradisum (Into Paradise)' which is based on words from great writers across the ages creating a vision of a world where our relationship with the environment – and water in particular – allows us to “sit by a river” and “find peace and meaning in the rhythm of the lifeblood of the Earth”

The work is combined with visuals by multimedia artist Tim Gruchy