Superb Sights & Sounds
John Williams: Selections from Star Wars and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
John Adams: Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Richard Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30
Houston Symphony, Tito Munoz (conductor)
T. Munoz (©Ixi Chen)
Orbit - An HD Odyssey is a great programming idea for the Houston Symphony's summer concerts. Incorporating fantastic imagery from nearby NASA, the two programs so far focus on vibrant, technicolor orchestral staples.
The first venture into the HD hemisphere was a similar, but less successful program coordinated with Holt's The Planets. Perhaps using music that doesn't deal outright or entirely with space allowed producer/director David Copp more liberty with his film. Even if the manipulations of images never got more sophisticated than something one could do with iMovie, their interaction with the selected music was impressive and invigorating.
The Adams fanfare and Strauss tone poem used for the collaboration were wonderfully executed by the orchestra and held carefully in check by Tito Munoz, in his Houston Symphony debut. Prior to intermission, the audience was given a warm-up with selections from John Williams' film scores, which often hearken back to Strauss and Holst. The selections were smartly chosen to form a four-movement symphony of film music, one that engaged throughout.
It's easy to forgot how difficult these pieces are technically. An orchestra has to have extraordinary depth to pull off not only the "concert" works but also the film scores, all of which see their composers pushing the bounds of virtuosity. The horn parts in the Strauss were perfectly placed both in soaring high points as well as the somber "Credo in unum deum" incantations. Eric Halen played the lengthy concertmaster solo in the work expertly. The Adams, despite its brevity, is great to hear live, as new layers of rhythmic interaction always pop up. The brass in this performance was thrilling and spiced up by the finer, often overlooked details, like the rhythmically complex tambourine line that runs through the middle of the work.
Whether one concentrated on the shuttle liftoff shown during the Adams, the stunning images of Earth during the Holst or the pictures brought to mind by John Williams' music itself, this was a thoroughly enjoyable summer night at the symphony.
Marcus Karl Maroney