A Musical & Visual Journey Through the Tapestries of Time & Space

The SBSO Kicks Off Ambitious 88th Season with Holst’s Symphonic Masterpiece ‘The Planets’ Synchronized with Stunning NASA Photography in Multi-Media Extravaganza

    icon Sep 21, 2023
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As they embark upon their exceptional 88th Season one of the key goals of the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra centers upon the process of re-engaging their audience by expanding the scope of their programming, along with its presentation, by reaching for the Cosmos in terms of sculpting their season to literally connect and integrate both our aural musical sensibilities with our visual.

With the content of their 88th Season built around the theme of A Journey Through Time & Space, on Saturday, October 7th, Maestro & Conductor Fouad Fakhouri and the SBSO are poised to take audiences upon a memorable sonic journey into outer and inner space from the launch pad of Saginaw’s Temple Theatre as they journey through the cosmos in a space-themed concert featuring John Williams Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Nielsen’s Helios Overture, Rouse’s Phaethon, and Holst’s ground-breaking and memorable symphonic suite, The Planets, which will be performed simultaneously with synchronized overhead projections comprised of actual visual footage from NASA.

Garnering over two decades of international credits as a conductor and composer, Fakhouri is deeply committed to actively engaging audiences through powerful artistic experiences, and this upcoming performance is an exemplary testament to his vision.

Known for his musical accuracy and intensity, Maestro Fouad has thread together broad, dynamic, and powerful interpretations of these works that strive to go beyond the score in order to capture both the essence and spirit of the music.

“With this upcoming season we wanted to do something very special, so we designed it like never before,” he explains “Typically, we’ll have five subscription concerts and two will be large ones, along with a Holiday Pops show and a couple smaller concerts; but this season I am proud to say every single concert is a BIG concert. Each one features a big orchestra, great guest artists, or opens the prism on the lens to new ideas. We’re trying this new model for the first time this year and hope it is successful, because we are committed to providing our audiences with an exceptional and memorable evening with each performance.”

When threading together an ambitious series of this nature, it helps if the audience has a knowledge of context and an understanding of the historical & musical significance of each work, which Fakhouri is eager to share. 

“When thinking about how do we best take our audiences on a journey outside of this world, I wanted to begin with composer John Williams and his work in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, because he uses things in that score that are both unique to him and music in general, mixing different notes and finding this eerie sound that is both distant yet familiar.”

“Another reason I wanted to program Close Encounters is that while I could have programmed anything Williams has written such as the Theme from Star Wars, you can see and hear the links between what Williams writes about space to the foundation Holst laid out in The Planets, which remains true of that piece for anything written since for cinema and movies.”

“The next two pieces, Rouse’s Phaeton and Nielsen’s Helios Overture, are not necessarily connected but work together in an interesting manner,” he continues. “Rouse is a contemporary American composer who passed away about four or five years ago and wrote this piece Phaeton in the 1980s, which he composed right around the time of the space craft Challenger’s accidental explosion.”

“Meanwhile, in Greek mythology Phaeton was the son of Helios, the Sun God, who wanted to take Helios’ chariot around the earth, but Helios told his son not to ride it because he could not control it and only Helios could properly handle these airborne horses on this journey around the earth. Phaeton decides to take the chariot anyway, and almost gets burned by the sun before he gets cold and creates havoc as he re-enters earth. Finally, his father throws a fire bolt at the chariot and kills his son and stops all of this chaos, explains Fakhouri. “What’s also interesting is how Rouse’s piece was written 80-years after Nielsen’s, yet both carry this thematic continuity.”

With these three works setting the tone for the centerpiece performance as the audience embarks upon the marvels of  Gustav Holst’s The Planets, there are many details behind this work important for audiences to absorb for maximizing one’s appreciation of this ground-breaking work.

The Planets was composed over a span of nearly three years, between 1914 and 1917 and the work had its origins back in 1913 when Holst and his benefactor holidayed in Spain and had a discussion about astrology, which piqued Holst’s interest in the subject.  According to his daughter, Imogene, her father had difficulty with large-scale orchestral structures such as symphonies, and the idea of a suite with a separate character for each movement was an inspiration to him.

Holst's biographer Michael Short and the musicologist Richard Greene both think it likely that another inspiration for the composer to write a suite for large orchestra was the example of Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra, which had been performed in London in 1912 and again in 1914. Holst was at one of the performances and is known to have owned a copy of the score. Holst described The Planets as "a series of mood pictures", acting as "foils to one another", with "very little contrast in any one of them".

In the last movement the orchestra is joined by a wordless female chorus, which also served as a pivotal  portion of director Stanley Kubrick’s finale in his landmark film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Each movement of the suite is named after a planet of the Solar System and its supposed astrological character.  While the innovative nature of Holst's music caused some initial hostility among a minority of critics, the suite quickly became and has remained popular, influential and widely performed. The composer conducted two recordings of the work, and it has been recorded at least 80 times subsequently by other conductors.

When asked what he feels most distinguishes The Planets within the lexicon of Classical Music, Maestro Fakhouri references its sustainability.

“What has sustained this worked for over 100 years now is the fact it’s really the first work that described the planets or outer space in a musical context and in a cinematic grand manner that we’ve been programmed to expect,” states Fakhouri.  “It’s almost like the Godfather musically of anything that is set in space, from 2001 to Star Trek. It contains the germ of that type of sound that people associate with music that describes or is born from space and the cosmos.”

“While celestial titles are out there associated with different symphonic works, this was the first time a composer made an effort to describe the different aspects of various states and objects in outer space,” he notes. “It’s a great work with a huge orchestra that manages to capture a series of grandeur that has stood the test of time. For me, there is no other way to describe it.”

Moreover, while the SBSO usually performs with 65 musicians, for this performance they will enlist a total of 84 musicians. “This work requires a lot of voices,” notes Fouad. “Plus you have the ‘wordless choir’, which is also interesting because Holst wrote in his score, ‘All Female Choir’, and at the end of the piece they sing a couple minutes out of a 45-minute work, only they are not onstage but behind the stage of the concert hall with the door to the hall opening and closing to get this effect of feint voices moving through space as they fade in and out.  It’s a great effect.”

Finally, with the synchronized NASA film-footage adding a significant visual impact to this performance, how was the SBSO able to secure the footage?

“There’s a couple companies that have developed these videos from NASA footage that are configured into a 45-minute slide show or video that goes along with the music,” he explains. “This is the second time I’ve performed the piece this way, only the first time I did it with a different company that gave me a monitor as I was conducting, so I had to work with the videographer to completely always be in sync with the video, meaning I had to conduct the music to almost accompany the video.  With this new company, I conduct the music and the video being shown will be controlled through cues where it shifts from one scene to the next, so the visuals react to the music rather than me needing to adjust the music to the video.”

“In summation, I would like to say this is genuinely one of those musical experiences that doesn’t happen every day, certainly not in big cities let alone Saginaw,” concludes Fakhouri. “If you like space and graphic music and live music, I deeply encourage people to attend this performance - it has something for everyone.”

The Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Holst’s ‘The Planets: Live in Motion will take place on Saturday, October 7th at 8:00 PM at Saginaw’s Temple Theatre, 201 N. Washington Ave. Ticket prices are only $55, $42, and $19 for Adults, with single student tickets running $22 and $19.  Tickets can be purchased by phoning the box office or visiting TempleTheatre.com






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