The Planets: An HD Odyssey Gives Tour of Solar System

Sep 28, 2016

On the last weekend of September, the Madison Symphony Orchestra filled the Overture Center for three straight days as they opened their concert season with a showcase of music—beginning with George Enescu’s whimsical “Romanian Rhapsody No. 1” and John Corigliano’s foreboding “Chaconne from the Red Violin.” However, the main event of the night—The Planets: An HD Odyssey—took place after intermission.

With support from The Friends of UW-Madison Astronomy, the Madison Symphony brought "The Planets: An HD Odyssey" to Wisconsin for the first time. During the event, the orchestra played Gustav Holst’s masterpiece, “The Planets,” in tandem with a spectacular high definition film showcasing beautiful images of each of the eight planets—excluding the dwarf planet Pluto, which had not been discovered by the time Holst wrote the piece.

Photo Credit: Peter Rodgers, Madison Symphony Orchestra

As the lights dimmed after intermission on Friday, Sept. 23, the orchestra perfected their posture in preparation for the first score of Holst’s 100-year old orchestral suite. “Mars: Bringer of War” appeared on the massive HD screen behind them.

Moments after the text faded out, the opening image of the barren, rusted planet Mars leapt onto the screen. In perfect synchrony, the orchestra bounded into the first measure, which marched forward forcefully to the drumbeat of war.

As the HD images—both real and computer generated—streamed across the screen, the audience remained transfixed.

At one point, there was an animated video of a Mars rover descending through the atmosphere in preparation for a landing. When the rover ignited its armadillo-style shell of airbags and bounced across the Martian surface, an elderly and elegantly dressed woman seated nearby cupped her hands over her mouth and audibly gasped.

Though the initial ode to Mars was packed with intensity, the next score—“Venus: Bringer of Peace”—quickly eased the audience back into a calmer state. At this point, the full beauty of the orchestrally accompanied images began to sink in.

By the time the orchestra shifted from the soft fluttering of “Mercury: The Winged Messenger,” to the heavy frolicking of “Jupiter: Bringer of Jollity,” the crowd was leaning forward, completely absorbed in the swirling streaks of Jupiter displayed above.

Throughout the night, John DeMain—Grammy and Tony Award-winning conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra—expertly expressed the planetary personalities for each of Holst’s scores.

As the audience took in the rings of Saturn, while listening to Holst’s astrologically-inspired “Saturn: The Bringer of Old Age,” it was clear the concert goer’s interest in astronomy was peaking. Perhaps this is why, both before the show and during intermission, an astronomical outreach kiosk ran by the UW-Madison Department of Astronomy was packed full of inquisitive attendees.

Many people often think of art and science as two completely different beasts; however, as seen in The Planets: An HD Odyssey, art and science are often much more intertwined then we care to admit. The truth that can be found in science can often fuel art. And in the same vein, an appreciation for art can often inspire beautiful science.

The Planets: An HD Odyssey was made possible in part by the Friends of UW-Madison Astronomy. “A great society thrives through art and science. The Friends of UW-Madison Astronomy proudly support the Madison Symphony Orchestra.”

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