In a manner of speaking, things are looking up for the Willamette Falls Symphony's concert "The Planets and Heavens" at 3 p.m. Feb. 19 in Oregon City.
"The concert is built around the major piece 'The Planets,' by English composer Gustav Holst. It is really a dramatic, wonderful, exciting musical extravaganza," said Mark Perlman, the orchestra's conductor.
"It was written in 1914-16 and was groundbreaking in its orchestration. It is a definite crowd-pleaser, and I have wanted to do it for a while, but was waiting until we had the resources," he said.
Perlman decided to add other pieces with astronomical connections to the concert.
The performance will begin with Richard Strauss' tone poem "Also Sprach Zarathustra."
"The piece was one of his lesser-known works until 1968, when it was memorably used as the main theme for the film '2001: A Space Odyssey,'" he said.
Next will follow two pieces with moon themes: Debussy's "Clair de Lune" and Dvorak's "Song to the Moon," from his opera "Rusalka."
The Dvorak features a member of the violin section, Lyn Peterson, as a solo singer.
The orchestra also will play "Pluto," a modern piece written in 1997 by American composer Margaret Brouwer.
Perlman noted that when Holst wrote "The Planets," Pluto hadn't been discovered, so he didn't write a movement for it.
"Brouwer has written a very interesting piece for it, using the same orchestra as 'The Planets,' to be a kind of companion piece to the Holst. It is relatively unfamiliar, and we are glad to be bringing it to Oregon audiences," Perlman said.
"The Planets" uses a very large orchestra, including extra winds and brass, with celesta, two harps and organ, along with a women's choir, "so we had to recruit all those extra players. It wasn't all that difficult, because everyone knows how great a piece it is and how much fun it would be to play," Perlman said.
He added that the piece is a challenge to play and the orchestra did lose one rehearsal due to bad weather.
In addition, "Pluto" is something no one in the orchestra had played or even ever heard, "so we are starting from scratch on that, but it has been a rewarding experience to take on something new," Perlman said.
"The best part is how much fun everyone in the orchestra is having playing this great music. Because 'The Planets' takes so many extra musicians, it isn't very often that one gets a shot at it. Many people in the orchestra are playing it for the first time."
Calling "Pluto" a "musical adventure," Perlman added: "The joy of discovery for pieces like this is a large part of what this group is all about. And they have all risen to the occasion in admirable fashion."
What audiences will like best about the upcoming concert is the "wonderfully engaging, dramatic, striking music," Perlman said.
He called "The Planets" cinematic in nature and scope and has influenced many composers of music for films.
"The ending of Holst's movement 'Mars, the Bringer of War' is undoubtedly the inspiration for John Williams' music for 'Star Wars,' when the Death Star blows up," Perlman said.
"'Mars' is some of the most muscular, powerful, macho pieces of music there is. 'Jupiter' is a brilliant joyful treat, with a grand, very English tune in the middle," he said. "'Venus' is elegance personified, and 'Saturn' and 'Uranus' are both powerful and mysterious. This is just fantastic music, and carries you away.
"'Mars' and 'Jupiter' are two of my favorite bits of music, but I am also proud to be bringing a new piece, 'Pluto,' for people to hear," Perlman said. "It is especially significant that when it was composed in 1997, the best photo we had of Pluto was a fuzzy circle. Yet now, just since 2015, NASA's New Horizons space probe has sent us back amazing photos of Pluto, letting us see details of Pluto's surface, beamed back from over 4.5 billion kilometers away from Earth."
The Willamette Falls Symphony concert on April 9 will feature the winners of the youth concerto competition.
"These kids, 12 to 18 years old, are amazing young virtuosos, with infectious enthusiasm," Perlman said. "We will also play Dvorak's 'Symphony No. 8' and a world premiere of a new piece composed by Don Sticksel, a member of our horn section."
Perlman is hoping to see a large turnout for the concert, noting that a community orchestra lives partly on the support of that community.
The concert takes place in a relatively small venue at the Oregon City United Methodist Church, and so the audience sits very close to the orchestra.
Perlman added, "It is an atmosphere of camaraderie and fun. It is more fun with more audience, so I urge [everyone] to come and listen.
What: The Willamette Falls Symphony presents "The Planets and Heavens," conducted by Mark Perlman
When: 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19
Where: Oregon City United Methodist Church, 18955 S. South End Road, Oregon City
Cost: Tickets are available at the door; $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors. Children under 12 are free with adult or senior
Online: Visit willamette