1 5 min 10 yrs

I should do better homework, but when I heard that the NSO would be performing selections to back-up a movie that NASA has sanctioned, I thought there was no need for homework…I was wrong! Emil de Cou conducts brilliantly, as usual, and the NSO plays to their usual perfection, BUT it was not what I was expecting!

The billing was, “The Planets-An HD Odyssey”, so I was thinking that the night was going to be centered around a movie that NASA either made or deemed worthy enough to represent them, with the NSO performing through-out the film, just like they did for the, “Wizard of Oz”. Instead, The first half of the evening was a trip through the Grand Canyon, with just the NSO. If you like the symphony, then this part of the evening was enjoyable, as they performed Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. Each piece was expertly executed under Festival Conductor, Emil de Cou. This was a surprise to me and some other patrons and I’m guessing not a welcomed surprise, as some fell asleep or simply left. Some of us like the visual stimulation with our symphony, in order to enjoy it to the fullest, but others are perfectly content to just have the orchestra. So, to each his own on the first half of the evening.

The second half of the evening is where they really lost me. Each segment of the journey through space was prefaced with a title of each planet, but that was about it. The “film” was more of a slideshow, with no supporting information. I would have liked at least captions with what we were looking at. Unless you are up on your astronomy, you are left guessing what part of the planets or moons you are viewing. Besides the CGI and authentic images of the Mars Rover, it was pretty dull. Jupiter’s music reminded me too much of a soap opera theme and was too dainty for such an enormous planet. Other than that, the pieces were well-chosen, but the evening fell short with the “film”. Have you ever watched your screensaver set to classical music? Try that…I have saved you $50…you’re welcome! I tried, but they lost me at Saturn and I was just hoping the last planets would move faster, as I don’t walk out on performances. I could find the same images on YouTube and I could find them with more educational information than was provided at Wolf Trap. The highlight of the evening was the preliminary presenting of a medal to Emil de Cou and a beautiful speech by NASA Administrator, Charles F. Bolden. The other puzzlement was the usage or lack thereof of the Choral Arts Society of Washington. They sat behind the orchestra all night, just to provide some haunting “ah’s” for Neptune (the last Planet of the night). I’m not sure what the point of that was!?


The evening wasn’t a total loss, but it wasn’t for me. I was hoping for some more education than the night provided and the film was definitely like watching someones screensaver flash by and not knowing what each image is depicting.

Overall Production: C-, Incorporating the Choral Arts Society was pointless, there was no information in the film and overall, it was boring.

NSO’s Performance: A, while they played everything to perfection, I didn’t like the selection for Jupiter.

“The Planets” film: D, it was more of a slide show with absolutely no educational value and unless you knew the images, you didn’t know what the pictures were featuring. It was tedious and I ould have left, but stayed out of respect for the NASA and the NSO

I’m not going to even grade the Choral Arts Society because it wouldn’t be fair.

www.wolftrap.org  The NSO will be redeeming themselves, in my eyes, this weekend with their performance with the a film, “West Side Story”.


Concert Revue by: Denise A. Levien

One thought on “The NSO and NASA Turn Education Into Tedium

  1. Clearly you are not a fan of classical music, or else you would understand that The Planets by Gustav Holst is a 7 movement suite with each movement being titled after a planet in our solar system (minus Earth since it is our own planet, and Pluto, since it wasn’t discovered until 1930). So, you deciding that the music for Jupiter wasn’t chosen well doesn’t make any sense. The movement itself, as written by Holst in 1914, is Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity. Neither NASA nor the NSO chose this piece of music to be paired with images of Jupiter. Had they chosen something else, they couldn’t have titled it The Planets. And the “movie” wasn’t supposed to be educational; only a slideshow of images collected from a variety of different satellites, the Rover, etc. The entire point of the second half of the show was for visual and auditory enjoyment, and not a lesson on our solar system. And the comments about the Choral Arts of Society also don’t hold any ground. The only time Holst wrote a vocal part into the piece was at the end of Neptune, and they sang exactly as much as they were supposed to.

    If you are going to review something, please take your own advice and do your homework, and have your expectations set accordingly (as any decent critic or spectator would do). In this case, let me do it for you:

    Straight from the Wolf Trap website:

    “Experience a powerful performance of Gustav Holst’s The Planets paired with an HD film from NASA’s latest exploration of the solar system. On giant screens in-house and over the stage and the lawn, you’ll see the latest stunning images from the Mars Rovers and past probe missions Magellan, Voyager, and Galileo as the National Symphony Orchestra performs Holst’s glorious musical score.

    Holst was heavily interested in astrology during the time he composed this suite. The separate movements are character portraits of the planets, seemingly inspired by the personalities and temperaments associated with astrological signs. ”

    I was at the concert myself, and at the same one two years ago. Both times, I knew exactly what to expect from the description provided by Wolf Trap, so it is no one’s fault but your own that you were misinformed.

    Better luck next time.

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