The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
Terra and Beyond

Dates and Venue Friday, October 6, 2017 & Saturday, Oct 7, 2017 at 8pm | Orpheum Theatre

Conductor William Rowson Featured performers Chris Hadfield vocals/guitar; Danny Michel vocals/guitar

Programme Gustav Holst’s The Planets, Richard Straus’ Also sprach Zarathustra, Mikhail Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture, Igor Stravinsky’s excerpts from The Firebird Suite plus other works

Reviewer John Jane

What do Danny Michel and Chris Hadfield have in common? Well, other than that they both recorded cover versions of David Bowie songs: “Young Americans” by Danny Michel and a truly definitive interpretation of “Space Oddity” by Chris Hadfield. But perhaps more relevant, they were both payload passengers on the Russian ice-breaker Kapitan Khlebnikov voyage through the Northwest Passage last summer (2016). It’s this connection that brings them together for the first half of the first concert in the VSO Pops season.

Michel wrote and partially recorded his unostentatious song cycle which was eventually produced by Rob Carli, and has since been released into a complete album entitled Khlebnikov. Among the songs selected for his performance, shared with Hadfield were: “The Dishwasher’s Dream” inspired by the ship’s kitchen crew and sung in Russian and English, “24,000 Horses” – a reference to the ship’s power and “Fall,” sung by Hadfield entirely in Russian from an Alexander Pushkin poem. Simultaneous to the performances, still images of mostly icebergs and ice fields taken by photographers during the arctic voyage were displayed on a giant screen.

The orchestra under the baton of Maestro William (Bill) Rowson began the ‘Russian’ theme with Mikhail Glinka’s exuberant Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture. Glinka’s overture is an excellent curtain-raiser. The work has a heroic spirit that is distinctly Russian. Its robust melody lines give way to serene lyrical passages from the strings section, ultimately concluding in a rousing climax.

The orchestra concluded the first part of the evening’s concert with excerpts from Igor Stravinsky’s ballet score, Firebird Suite. Maestro Rowson chose the last two movements: Berceuse (Lullaby) and Finale. These movements exploit many elements of the modern orchestra. The shifting rhythms and ‘rise and fall’ dynamics are precisely executed by the musicians.

In the second half, the concert switched themes from a sea voyage on a Russian ship to interplanetary travel. From ‘Terra to Beyond’ is obviously a motif that Commander Hadfield is au fait with, even performing a song written by his son Evan conspicuously titled “Beyond the Terra.”

As images of serene and tranquil seascapes gave way to more ominous frames of outer space likely taken with the Hubble telescope, the orchestra set the audience on the journey with the opening bars of Richard Straus’ orchestral tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra, popularly known A Space Odyssey since its use as a soundtrack in Stanley Kubrick’s iconic science fiction film. Maestro Rowson followed up with his reading of arguably the most famous cosmically inspired music, Mars, the Bringer of War and Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity from Gustav Holst’s The Planets.

The final selection in the program was actually introduced as an encore. Michael Giacchino’s (New) Star Trek Theme from the soundtrack of the 2009 film. The score incorporates much of Alexander Courage’s original "Theme from Star Trek," but more complex in its structure.

The two weekend concerts were a wonderful opener for the VSO Pops Series, and moreover, an opportunity to see (and meet) a genuine Canadian hero.

© 2017 John Jane