Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

Clyde Mitchell, Conductor

Ken Hewitt-White, Narrator; Featuring Elektra Women's Choir

July 31, 1999

At the Orpheum

by Roxanne Davies

While thousands thronged to English Bay to watch the first Symphony of Fire of the summer, classical music lovers enjoyed, in my opinion, a much better show in the comfort of the Orpheum, and we didn't have to scare the poor sea creatures senseless with fire and noise.

Yet, in some way, I was frightened during this unique concert, because it truly impressed upon me what an insignificant speck man is in the Universe. Yet this minute planet in this vast solar system has produced some of most powerful and beautiful music to capture the human awe of looking up into the heavens and beholding our celestial neighbours.

Clyde Mitchell conducted the full orchestra including a gargantuan Wurlitzer organ in full view front stage in what was part entertainment, part education. I noticed many families with young children in the audience this evening. Ken Hewitt-White, host at the Pacific Space Centre who has taught kids about the solar system for 20 years, introduced each movement with a description of what we were about to see. During the more compelling photos, you could have heard a pin drop as we sat mesmerized by the high resolution images from NASA's unmanned spacecraft and the Hubble Telescope, provided by the Pacific Space Centre, projected on a huge screen suspended above.

The concert began with a lively rendition of music from the movies. It was a treat to hear the full score from such popular movies like Star Trek, Star Wars, E.T and the X-files. The music from 2001, A Space Odessey was actually written many years ago by Richard Strauss. When the composer wrote Also Sprach Zarathustra, he had little notion about outer space, computers called HAL, space travel and the like.

I was a tad disappointed that the first part only lasted less than one hour. However, I realized that it was just to prepare us for the more dramatic and compelling second half. A multimedia film presentation of Gustav Holst's The Planets was an outstanding choreograph of planetary landscapes, computer graphics and evocative sounds of this author's best known composition.

During Holst's time, Pluto had not yet been discovered; so, his symphony featured 7 movements to describe the 7 known planets. He left out the earth and wrote music describing the human characteristics of the other planets: Mars, The Bringer of War; Venus, The Bringer of Peace; Mercury, The Winged Messenger; Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity; Saturn, The Bringer of Old Age; Uranus, The Magician; and Neptune, The Mystic.

We saw dried river beds on Mars, mountains with a base as large as all of B.C., varying temperatures of 430 degrees C and -180 degrees, bubbling volcanoes, hundred year old cyclones and Jupiter's sixteen satellites, as Voyager passed by this planet, bigger than all the other planets combined.

We viewed up close the 17 moons around Uranus, an astonishing 3 billion kilometrs away. Its moons are familiar to lovers of Shakespeare --some of them named Titiana, Miranda and Oberon. Although we cannot look directly at the Sun, we saw solar flares on that magnificent ball of fire that makes life on earth possible.

Close to the end we heard the distant yet evocative voices of the Elektra Women's Choir singing backstage, adding their wonderful sounds to the images of Neptune.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. When it came to an end much too soon, there was sustained applause for Mitchell and the VSO.

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke said that earth is the cradle of mankind. He envisioned the solar system as its kindergarten as man goes boldly where no man has gone before. By the end of the evening, I had an inkling of what compels those adventurers amongst us to set off on that journey to the stars.