WSO's 'Planets' includes newly formed choir, solar-system stats
Todd Brown and Mark Boyle are finding different ways of being stars in dealing with the planets.
Brown, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg, and Boyle, director of choral activity at Seton Hill University, will be adding their personal expertise to a March 29 performance of “The Planets” by the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra.
“At first, they said, ‘Just say a few words,' ” Brown says with a laugh about the talk he will give. “Now, they are saying 10 minutes. Man, if you give me that much time you might have to get the hook.”
Getting Boyle off the stage will be no problem. He will not be there.
He will be conducting the new, 25-member Concentus Choir of Westmoreland County, which will be tucked away offstage where it will add a wordless chorus to the closing “Neptune” section of the work by Gustav Holst (1874-1934).
Boyle will have a different kind of a challenge than Brown. Holst, he says, wrote the piece for an offstage choir to provide an “ethereal” nature, but that placement makes it difficult to watch the conductor.
In this performance, he says a closed-circuit TV image of artistic director Daniel Meyer will be used, but even that has its flaws. Because there is a little difference in timing between sight and sound, the singers will have to sing a little ahead of what they are hearing.
Meyer knows of this difficulty, but is not worried. The nature of the choir's work means it can be a millisecond off in timing without hurting the piece.
“This work is practically indestructible,” Meyer says, giving the work a great deal of credit for inspiring soundtracks such as “Star Wars.”
Meyer says he programmed Richard Wagner's overture to “Tannhauser” for a similar reason: The force of Wagner's orchestration was a big influence on Holst and other composers.
Boyle is intrigued at doing “The Planets” because of its unique nature. He says Holst wrote the piece with a vocal fade-out at the end in which he suggested to “slowly close the door” in the room where the singers are.
The choir is a newly formed group of female free-lancers from the community and students from Seton Hill.
Brown will be talking about and showing projections of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in his presentation in the first half of the concert. Besides the words and images, his presentation also will include passages from the orchestra.
One curious aspect of “The Planets” has been resolved, he says. When the work was written between 1914 and '16, Pluto hadn't been discovered, so it was not a part of Holst's solar system. That planet was demoted in 2006, so its absence does not make the work seem incomplete anymore, he says.
Meyer says Brown's talk is a continuation of comments he has been adding at concerts this season in an effort to spark some thinking and discussion of the music.
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7852.