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Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra merges sounds, sights of space

Posted 11:07am on Sunday, Sep. 23, 2012

If it's Also Sprach Zarathustra, this must be space. Ever since Stanley Kubrick connected Richard Strauss' tone poem to the epic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, those famous opening measures connote beyond-the-Earth adventures in the public mind.

The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra reinforced that connotation Saturday night, but it went a step further than Kubrick: Not just the opening, but the rest of Strauss' work served as a sonic background for a special program dubbed Orbit: An HD Odyssey.

A large screen was pulled down over Bass Hall's stage, and onto it was projected a sort of hybrid documentary/space-art show, courtesy of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. While the audience watched the show up high, Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the FWSO played Strauss and John Adams below.

The opening scene was the rollout and launch of the space shuttle Endeavour, accompanied by Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine. The ride wasn't all that short, but the machine was certainly fast. It all amounted to about the best shots of a shuttle launch anyone has seen, except maybe in person at the launch site -- and even then, you wouldn't have gotten as close as the onsite cameras and telephoto shots.

After a slight pause, Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra switched to Strauss as video of the Earth from orbit was projected onscreen. The video was shot from the orbiting space shuttle and International Space Station. Also seen were closeups of the two space vehicles, each shot from the other.

Much of the visual presentation was not clearly identifiable as Earth scenes. Clouds, geographical formations, ice fields, seas and ground appeared as a kind of modernistic abstract art, especially as arranged by the filmmakers in the many split-scene sequences. It was fascinating -- beautiful even, especially the above-clouds shots of hurricanes.

There was so much brilliant color that one suspected electronic manipulation. If the colors were true, future space travelers have quite a show in store for them.

As usual in this sort of thing, the visual element dominated. Attention was diverted from the music, though what was heard seemed sound enough.

There was one addition to the program, sans visuals.

Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra played three segments -- "Sunrise," "Sunset" and "On the Trail" -- from Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite." It was a lot of fun.

Concertmaster Michael Shih got some laughs with his "On the Trail" solo. Stradivarius almost certainly never imagined that one day one of his violins would imitate a donkey.

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