The previous Saturday (September 17), at Lexington's Cary Hall, Lexington Symphony music director Jonathan McPhee told the audience that he had always wanted to put Claude Debussy's Nocturnes and Gustav Holst's The Planets on the same program. Debussy's trio — "Nuages," "Fêtes," and "Sirènes" — was inspired by James Whistler's various paintings of the same name, the visual and aural cues — clouds, fireworks, siren calls — getting their modernist kick from hints of mediæval modes, Phrygian in "Nuages," Mixolydian in "Fêtes." Holst's work also looks to the skies, and though it draws on the English folk sensibility, it too has its modal side. Both "Sirènes" and the "Neptune" section of The Planets call for a women's chorus, here provided by Holly MacEwan Krafka's New World Chorale.
The performances were a testament to what a "local" orchestra can achieve with a skilled conductor who focuses on expressivity rather than virtuosity, and who seems to be discovering the music rather than arriving at a predetermined destination. "Nuages" had an Oriental feel, the clouds not languishing but in tempo. "Fêtes" balanced precariously between the whirl of the tarantella and the mounted parade of the Republican Guard; "Sirènes" was a study in restless ostinatos, with unusually carnal siren calling from the New World Chorale, which had filed into the left-hand balcony.
The highlight of The Planets was the opening "Mars," with its menacing brass and a steady tread that could have represented a march of the clones from Star Wars. (Amazing that the other famous 5/4 movement in classical music, the slow movement of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony, manages to sound like a waltz.) It built in hysteria without increasing in tempo; the cataclysm was kaleidoscopic. "Venus" was melting, with a seductive cello line, "Mercury" fleeting but not gossamer, "Jupiter" stiff-upper-lip in its hymn tune and with a soaring trumpet line toward the end (though the final string figurations didn't quite emerge). "Saturn" was a relatively vigorous "Bringer of Old Age," its "Dies Irae" motif reminding us of the hint we'd heard in "Nuages"; "Uranus" was a rollicking, "Fêtes"-like "Magician" who disappeared into thin air, leaving a lonely harp behind. And "Neptune" recalled the end of Stanley Kubrick's 2001, the "Mystic" isolated in the universe, striving to interpret the Eternal Feminine of the offstage New World Chorale.
, classical, Ryan Turner, Mozart, More