While Gustav Holst’s symphonic masterpiece The Planets—kicking off Symphony Silicon Valley’s 10th anniversary season—is among the most beloved of all classical works, it is not, as one might think, about the planets; not entirely, anyway. Holst’s intention for the piece was to explore the influence that each planet has on the human psyche and emotions. His focus was astrological rather than astronomical.
“The Planets is a magnificent, gargantuan piece of music,” says Symphony Silicon Valley founder and general director Andrew Bales. “There’s something really magical about the level of sound and impact.”
Requiring 90 musicians plus a chorale, the scope of The Planets is massive. Starting with the opening movement, “Mars, the Bringer of War,” the tone is set; this is a sweeping, musical exploration of celestial influences on humanity ranging from the delicate and lovely through crashing, emotional abandon. The final movement, “Neptune, the Mystic,” is a lush and swirling sound-scape that brings the work to a gentle conclusion and ends with a chorus of voices softly fading away.
Paired with The Planets is a reprise of world music master David Amram’s Triple Concerto, which was a favorite of the 2006-2007 season. Amram, who Bales calls “a world music wunderkind with a combination beatnik/classical tradition,” was Leonard Bernstein’s composer-in-residence of the New York Philharmonic and was on the road with Jack Kerouac. A celebrated composer and multi-instrumentalist, Amram performs his concerto with three quintets: woodwind, brass and jazz.
Continuing its tradition of hosting guest conductors, Symphony Silicon Valley brings back one of their tried and true favorites, Maestro Paul Polivnick, who has worked with the symphony every year but one and who Bales enthusiastically endorses.
“Polivnick is very good with new music,” he says. “We’re very excited to have him back to do this program with us.”
Known for stretching stylistic boundaries and combining classical programs with jazz, pop, Broadway and more, Symphony Silicon Valley plays a central role in maintaining the rich tradition of classical music in San Jose.
“Symphony Silicon Valley builds on a heritage of classical music that has been in San Jose forever,” says Bales. “The old San Jose Symphony was the oldest symphony west of the Mississippi. When it closed, we really felt a need to maintain that continuity of classical music that Silicon Valley audiences have come to love.”
Symphony Silicon Valley with the Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale and the Cantabile Youth Singers of Silicon Valley perform Holst’s The Planets on October 1 & 2 at the California Theatre.