Holst; the HPO, and an astrology lesson Reply

Review by Danny Gaisin  Mar. 17th, ’19

My Very Easy Method, Just SUN”, this mnemonic is one of the ways of remembering the names and positions of the planets … the things in the night sky that don’t twinkle! Just over one hundred years ago, Gustav Holst composed a suite that reflected the astrological characteristics of the planets and the mythological gods they are named after. This work was the major opus undertaken by last night’s Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra concert in the Great Hall.
The pre-intermission part of the program was devoted to Claude Debussy. Opening with his ‘Prelude to an Afternoon of a Faun’.

The HPO & McMaster Choir performing Debussy Nocturne

This short piece depicts ‘Pan’ before he heads out in search of the nymphs, and was created as a ballet for the great Nijinsky. Given the turn-of-century era, the work is imagery or mental picture rather than realism. To accentuate the effect on the HPO audience, conductor Gemma New arranged for projections of a slightly blurred misty lake as well as some poetic lines from the suite. Ms. New’s style, and obvious goal, is to have her orchestra affect not just the auditory but the touch & sight senses of her audience. She certainly succeeds.
Debussy’s 2nd piece was his Nocturnes — a three part work that depicts night; clouds, holidays and finally, mermaids. To enhance the finale movement, the orchestra was augmented by the Women’s Choir of McMaster University who performed the sound of the music rather than any lyrics. Totally effective and highly melodic. The 1st & 2nd movements were treated as soft and mellow; other times joyous or with measured precise metronomic pulsation. Having heard New conducting the renowned Toronto Symphony last Sunday, and hearing the HPO under her baton; this city does not need to have any sense of cultural inferiority, the ‘Phil’ is that good!.
The Planets incorporate seven of our solar system, omitting Earth (naturally) and Pluto. For some reason, they are presented out of actual order from the Sun. Mercury should be first but the composition opens with the God of War, so naturally Mars is militaristic even bombastic. This work affords opportunities for every section of an orchestra to shine; especially the percussion. Holst incorporated timpani and four percussionists that were only slightly balanced by two harps (Goodman & Schwarzkopf) and Celeste in order to almost visually portray the psyches of the specific mythological characters. The interpretation and execution of the entire composition was impressive.
Two notable items about the Hamilton Philharmonic. Last night’s concert was SOLD OUT. Given the supposed deterioration of interest in things cultural; this showing belies the so-called fact. Second, and just as important, the executive director of our orchestra was just gifted the Canada Council for the Arts Mentorship Award. As a full-fledged Hamiltonian (10 years today) I’m proud of both the Orchestra and Diana Weir. Like Ms. New herself, she and they, are a credit to our city.

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