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Piano Concerto on the Planets Premieres – Sky & Telescope

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Transfer over, Gustav Holst. There’s a brand new Planets on the town. And this one relies on astronomy, not astrology.

Holst’s seven-movement orchestral suite The Planets premiered in London in 1918. Now, a bit greater than a century later, a contemporary model on the theme noticed first mild on Sunday Could 22, 2022. However whereas Holst turned to astrology for inspiration, composer Daniel Perttu turned to astronomy.

Genesis of A Planets Odyssey

Pianist Jeffrey Biegel’s longtime dream was to convey to life an up to date model of Holst’s The Planets, infusing the music with present scientific understanding. Biegel was born deaf, and till the age of three, when corrective surgical procedure allowed him to listen to for the primary time, his world was very closed. He relied on different technique of expression and communication, and so music turned his first language. In consequence, his initiatives typically have an “out of the field” aspect. Biegel’s imaginative and prescient of a revamped Planets options the pianist as an area traveler journeying by way of the photo voltaic system.  

Pianist Jeffrey Biegel and Composer Daniel Perttu
Pianist Jeffrey Biegel (school member on the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn Faculty) and composer Daniel Perttu (Professor of Music Principle and Composition at Westminster Faculty) teamed as much as produce A Planets Odyssey. Shortly after assembly Perttu (on the behest of a mutual acquaintance), Biegel realized that he’d discovered the one that might assist convey his mission to fruition. Perttu liked the thought, and so the pair launched into their collaboration.
Jerry LoFaro / Derek D. Buck

A Planets Odyssey isn’t your typical three-movement concerto. As a substitute, it’s in a theme-and-variations kind. “It begins with the Large Bang, adopted by the pianist introducing the primary theme of the concerto,” Perttu explains. “This theme is then diversified because the pianist visits every planet and is impressed by the distinctive properties of every planet.” Like Holst, Perttu skips the Earth. However not like Holst, these planets are featured of their order from the Solar. And extra importantly, Perttu focuses solely on the science.

Pianist as Cosmic Traveler

Perttu picked just a few traits of every planet for inspiration and reworked these into sonic visions. For instance, Mercury, topic of the primary variation, is the innermost and smallest of the photo voltaic system’s planets and experiences extremes in temperature. It additionally has just about no ambiance. So Perttu drew on these traits to provide a variation that conveys the imagery of a “stark, excessive form of place.”

Holst crater on Mercury
Mercury is an airless world, its floor pockmarked by craters, ridges, and lava plains — scars indicating a violent previous. The planet’s craters are named after artists, authors, and musicians; in actual fact, Holst has his personal 170-kilometer-wide crater, pictured right here!
NASA / Johns Hopkins College Utilized Physics Laboratory / Carnegie Establishment of Washington

Venus is the brightest object within the night time sky, aside from the Moon and the Solar. Its ambiance is basically roiling clouds of carbon dioxide. On the planet’s floor, the place temperatures attain a whopping 470°C (870°F), the stress is a few 90 occasions that of Earth’s. In some unspecified time in the future in its early, cooler historical past, Venus might have had a shallow liquid-water ocean and will have harbored life, however that’s all lengthy passed by now. The prospect of potential present or previous life is at all times thrilling, and that’s the angle that sonically describes Venus on this variation.

Rounding out the rocky planets, Mars continues to seize our creativeness, with its dusty pink floor and the photo voltaic system’s largest volcano. Perttu nonetheless reads a disappointment in Mars’s story. A planet that when might have had a lush setting with liquid water on its floor — and maybe life — is as we speak as a substitute a chilly and arid world.

After we get to the gasoline giants, Perttu introduces a way of airiness to the music. First comes majestic Jupiter, the biggest planet within the photo voltaic system, wealthy in hydrogen and helium. It’s well-known for its Nice Purple Spot, which is, in actual fact, one humongous storm that has raged for greater than 300 years. The Nice Purple Spot and different storms on Jupiter are additionally websites of lightning! In truth, Perttu describes this passage as “swirly, blustery, and typically tempestuous.”

Shallow lightning on Jupiter
NASA’s Juno mission captured these photos of breaks in Jupiter’s cloud deck by way of which we glimpse deep into the planet’s ambiance. JunoCam caught shallow lightning, or high-altitude electrical discharges, related to lively storms.
NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Picture processing: Brian Swift @ CC BY

Ask most any astronomer what drew them to the topic, and the reply — most of the time — is their first view of Saturn by way of a telescope. The sight of the ethereal planet with its system of rings is inspiring at each stage. However so as to add to the planet’s attraction, we now know that its atmosphere contains diamonds. And never solely that, however that the diamonds would possibly fall as rain! Therefore, Saturn’s variation is “slower however shimmery in its sensibility.”

William Herschel found Uranus in 1781. The ice large’s ambiance is basically hydrogen and helium, with traces of methane that give the planet its eerie, greenish hue (by absorbing the pink wavelengths of sunshine). Uranus is a planet with a quirk: A cataclysmic interplay with one other physique within the early photo voltaic system tipped it over on its aspect with respect to its orbital airplane, so as a substitute of orbiting the Solar like the opposite planets, it rolls alongside in its orbit. Due to this, Perttu has inverted the primary theme within the variation, in addition to infusing it with a darkish, dismal sentiment.

Perttu composed the eighth variation to replicate a way of windiness because the final of our planets, Neptune, is the windiest of all of them. The blue ice large, probably the most distant of all planets (greater than 30 occasions the Earth-Solar distance), is darkish and chilly, and supersonic winds rage by way of its ambiance at speeds better than 2,000 km/h (1,200 mph). For comparability, the quickest winds recorded on Earth clock in at round 400 km/h.

Hubble Space Telescope image of Neptune
The Hubble Area Telescope snapped this shot of the photo voltaic system’s most distant planet, the ice large Neptune. The darkish spots are big storms that shaped on the windy planet. The bigger of the 2 storms (at left) is wider than Earth’s Atlantic Ocean.
NASA / ESA / STScI / M. H. Wong (College of California, Berkeley) / L. A. Sromovsky and P. M. Fry (College of Wisconsin-Madison)

And in a neat closing contact, we finish our odyssey all the way in which out within the Kuiper Belt. After all, when Holst composed The Planets, Pluto and different distant photo voltaic system objects hadn’t but been found. However in a becoming coda to A Planets Odyssey, Perttu brings us to the very outer edges of our photo voltaic system.

And now . . . the music

On Sunday Could 22, 2022, within the night, the Canton Symphony Orchestra (lead commissioning orchestra in a consortium of a number of orchestras) ushered A Planets Odyssey into the world, beneath the course of the Orchestra’s Music Director, Gerhardt Zimmermann. Biegel was on the piano.

“At this time is tomorrow’s historical past,” Biegel mentioned, after the live performance. “There’s a distinctive vitality within the room when all the celebrities align to witness the delivery of a brand new creation — Dan’s A Planets Odyssey created a synergy of musical, non secular, and scientific energies igniting the hearts and minds of the viewers and the performers.” He concludes, “It’s a feeling which joins us in an historic second like no different.”

Perttu was additionally philosophical following the live performance. “Penning this piece was not solely about making a musical illustration of our scientific information of the planets in 2020, but it surely was additionally about how the science can encourage creativeness,” he mused. “Who would have considered diamond rain?! There are mysteries on this universe that possible transcend our most fantastical hypothesis — and this piece is supposed to seize that spirit as effectively.”

Daniel Perttu, Gerhardt Zimmermann, Jeffrey Biegel at opening night of A Planets Odyssey
Perttu, Zimmermann, and Biegel beam after a profitable and joyous efficiency. Now that the premiere is behind them, they’ll chill out!
Jeffrey Biegel

After the fun of Sunday night, Biegel notes that the journey doesn’t end there. He envisions “that A Planets Odyssey will serve the needs of music, science and training for college kids studying about our photo voltaic system.”


When you’re within the Flagstaff, Arizona, space in September 2022, be sure you catch the subsequent efficiency of A Planets Odyssey by the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra performed by Music Director Charles Latshaw, with Jeffrey Biegel as piano soloist.


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