A guiding light for the planets

To say that the Herod Atticus Theater will turn into a planetarium this Friday, September 21, might be a slight exaggeration. Yet the evening’s organizers are hoping that the open-air theater will acquire a stellar dimension that night, through a combination of music, colors and lighting. In other words they hope to create an atmosphere that will allow the audience to wander through the solar system. The occasion is the interpretation by the Athens State Orchestra (KOA) of one of the 20th century’s most popular symphonic works, Gustav Holst’s Planets, in a concert with lighting provided by Sergio Rossi, the Italian expert. Composed during 1914-1917, The Planets opened for the first time in London in 1918. It is divided into seven parts, which was the exact number of known planets at the time – not including the Earth, and Pluto which had not been discovered yet. These are: Mars, the bringer of war; Venus, the peacemaker; Mercury, the messenger; Jupiter, the bringer of joy; Saturn, the bearer of old age; Uranus, the magician; and Neptune, the mystic. The composer attempts to render the atmosphere of each planet, from a mythological but also from an astrological point of view. The Martian theme, for instance, develops as a kind of military bolero, while that of Mercury is presented with ethereal colors. On the other hand, Jupiter, the bringer of joy, is treated in a jolly and celebratory movement. It is a masterful piece of work, written by a composer who had spent a lot of time on the subject of the orchestra, says Greek maestro Nikos Tsouchlos. It is a piece heavily inspired by French Impressionists such as Maurice Ravel; even more important, it has a monumental character which points to the fact that its creator was very familiar with the great orchestral works of Richard Strauss. In the end Holst was probably a minor composer, but this work, for which he is known, survived for a reason. What is actually going to happen at the Herod Atticus Theater? The Athens Festival’s idea was to present the work supported by a lighting event, given the work’s abstract character, notes Tsouchlos. For this purpose a great lighting expert came from Italy, Sergio Rossi, in order to create imposing colors and lights on this sensational rock which is the ancient theater, for the duration of this work, which is one hour, as well as for Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ which will open the evening. I would say this is a kind of lighting mise-en-scene which maintains from beginning to end its abstract character – though it should not turn into a planetarium! Also at Friday’s concert will be the newly founded Athens Festival Choir which will appear in the last part of the concert under the direction of Adonis Karageorgiou. Tsouchlos, artistic director of the Athens Concert Hall, has limited time to spend on his own artistic career but is very happy to be working with the KOA.The orchestra has acquired a fresh face with new musicians playing for the first time this Friday, says Tsouchlos. I have tremendous respect for this orchestra because despite past criticism it is the country’s great ensemble. .. and has recently made a huge leap forward.

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