"... because I had been commissioned to do it, I couldn't turn around and say, 'Hey, it isn't a planet.' " - Colin Matthews, "Pluto, Paradoxically Joins 'The Planets'," New York Times, 2006.
In 2000, English composer Colin Matthews was commissioned by the Halle Orchestra to add a movement to Gustav Holst's "The Planets," Op. 32, for Pluto. When Holst had written the celestial work, which features movements that correspond with each planet (excluding Earth, apparently because we're on it) in the solar system, in the 1910s, Pluto hadn't been discovered, so it couldn't have been included.
The distant, icy rock was, however, found during Holst's lifetime (in 1930), which gave him the opportunity to add it, but by that time, the composer had caught that disease that many great musicians do, which makes them resent their most popular work. He disliked the fact that "Planets" was so famous because it meant that his other works were being ignored. So, he wasn't going to draw more attention to it by adding a new part.
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The Williamsport Symphony Orchestra will perform “Music of the Spheres” at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St. For tickets, visit caclive.com or call the Community Arts Center box office at 326-2424.
For years, "Planets" was a bit of a problem - a masterful suite with movements for all the planets in our solar system except one, distant Pluto.
That was until Matthews, an authority on Holst, penned "Pluto, the Renewer," completing the suite and creating a work that would go on to be recorded several times and performed more than 100 times.
And then, after years of debate, Pluto was reduced to "dwarf planet" status in 2006.
That year, Matthews told the New York Times, "I thank God that I was actually on holiday the day that it happened. At times, I've been cursing, but it's very fascinating to be in the middle of it."
When the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra performs "The Planets" as a part of its "Music of the Spheres" concert Feb. 12, it will not perform the Pluto movement because "Holst was right," Maestro Gerardo Edelstein said with a smile. "Pluto was demoted. Now, we don't have to worry about it."
He added, "The interesting part of this piece is that [Holst] conceived it not based on astronomy, but on the astrological aspect of the planets. He loved horoscopes and read many things about it. He gathered with his friends and would tell them what would happen to them according to their horoscope."
Each of the seven movements also has a descriptor that highlights the astrological connections, including "Mars: The Bringer of War," "Venus: The Bringer of Peace" and "Mercury: The Winged Messenger."
For "Neptune: The Mystic," Holst included worldless vocals by a female choir, a part that will be filled by local singers.
"We will have the Lycoming College female section of the choir singing with us," Edelstein said.
But attendees may be a little confused about where the choir is positioned during the performance.
"They will not be on the stage," he said. "It's supposed to be celestial sounds. Holst writes in the score that the choir needs to be not seen."
What will be seen, however, is a series of galactic visuals created by Ned Ladd, associated professor of physics and astronomy at Bucknell University.
"I had seen a little bit of footage of visuals for 'The Planets' that other symphonies have done in the past and I was very impressed with the results," Edelstein said. "The music is fabulous but if you add a visual aspect, it enhances the experience. I was recommended to call the astronomy department at Bucknell and Ned Ladd graciously accepted the challenge."
The multimedia project will be projected on a screen while the orchestra is playing.
"The Planets" suite, which runs at about 50 minutes, will be performed during the second half of the concert. The first half will consist of Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp, which will feature guest soloist Pamela Stahel and WSO principal harpist Ruth Hunter.
Stahel graduated from Montoursville High School and is now the principal flutist for the Zurich Opera.
Hunter has performed with the WSO for seven years and also teaches harp at Susquehanna University.
"Music of the Spheres" will begin at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 and will be held at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.
For tickets, visit caclive.com or call the Community Arts Center box office at 326-2424.
For more about the Williamsport Symphony, visit williamsportsymphony.org.