The music of the spheres took flight Saturday night at Wolf Trap when the National Symphony Orchestra joined forces with NASA films for a multimedia performance of Gustav Holst's grandiose orchestral suite "The Planets." Hatch Productions supplied views from some of NASA's unmanned space flights, tailored to accompany musical episodes depicting seven of the planets and the mythological figures they represent.
Assistant conductor Takao Kanayama brought a suave continuity--with some outstanding NSO solos--to the ever-changing fusion of the astrological implications envisioned by Holst's music and astronomical images of the planets. While the Viking landers' transmissions projected Mars's rusty tints and craggy landscapes, the music portraying this "Bringer of War" swirled angrily with driving rhythms and furious brasses. The Women of the Washington Chorus added atmospheric timbres to "Neptune, the Mystic."
But contradictions between the two media cropped up in some movements: Venus, while represented visually as a searing caldron, was musically delineated as the "Bringer of Peace" in iridescent expanses of pastoral tranquillity.
The first half of the program inclined toward innocuous somnolence with outdated fare, through which the NSO plodded limply: Claude Debussy's "Petite Suite," Frederick Delius's "Summer Evening" and Jean Sibelius's zestier "Karelia" Suite.