The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert on WRTI: Marin Alsop leads Holst’s 'The Planets,' and Jennifer Koh performs a new violin concerto by Missy Mazzoli
Join us on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1 and Monday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 as The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert brings you a program of Brahms, Holst, and Missy Mazzoli from the 2022/2023 season.
The brilliantly scored orchestral suite The Planets, by English composer Gustav Holst, has long been renowned for its vibrant orchestration and astute characterizations of the mythical gods for whom the planets are named. Holst began the work in 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War. The war delayed its first public performance until 1920, but thereafter it proved so popular that it has largely overshadowed the other works of this inventive and questing composer. The Planets has been especially influential in Hollywood, where composers of film music have long taken inspiration from Holst’s glorious orchestration and gift for vivid characterizations.
The seven movements of The Planets depict Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Pluto was yet to be discovered, some 15 years after Holst began his suite. And the composer left Earth out, perhaps because of its lack of a namesake god from ancient Roman mythology — or perhaps just because of its quotidian familiarity.
Violinist Jennifer Koh joins the Orchestra in a compelling performance of a concerto written for her by Missy Mazzoli in 2021. Titled “Procession,” this work arose out of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Mazzoli was living on the remote Swedish island of Faro. Her inspiration came from medieval rituals connected with the Black Death and other plagues, injuries and illnesses. Mazzoli has reflected that she was “thinking a lot about music as a healing ritual.” In this concerto, the solo violin leads the listener through a succession of spells and charms, as a kind of healer or magician.
Mazzoli has composed previous pieces for Koh, who says that familiarity produced a unique alignment. “When I got her concerto, it was interesting: it was almost like I knew what the next page would be,” she says. “And I feel like that’s because I know her so well, I know her music so well – and not just her violin stuff, but all of her music. It’s really special to be so close and such close friends with the composer, and also have a chance to communicate that relationship through music.”
To open the concert, Marin Alsop leads the Tragic Overture by Johannes Brahms.This concert overture is a fraternal twin of sorts — the melancholy brother of the cheery Academic Festival Overture that Brahms wrote as a gesture of thanks to the University of Breslau, which conferred an honorary doctorate on him in 1879.
The festival piece had come easily: Brahms based it on student songs, and it has a celebratory spirit. But as it took shape, the composer started to feel a pull in the opposite direction, and he began a more dramatic and brooding companion piece. Brahms eventually titled it “Tragic” — not as in an expression of pain or grief, but as an appropriate curtain-raiser for a tragedy on the stage. The Philadelphia Orchestra’s performance, however, does hold a sense of personal loss, as this concert is dedicated to the memory of Bramwell Tovey, who was originally scheduled to conduct it. He died unexpectedly in July 2022, and his loss is felt deeply in Philadelphia, where he was a favorite of both musicians and audiences. Guest conductor Marin Alsop chose Brahms’s Tragic Overture specifically in his memory.
Brahms: Tragic Overture
Mazzoli: Violin Concerto (“Procession”)
Holst: The Planets
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Marin Alsop, conductor
Jennifer Koh, violin
Listen to The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts, every Sunday at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1, streaming at WRTI.org, on the WRTI mobile app, and on your smart speaker. Listen again on Mondays at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2. Listen for up to two weeks after broadcast on WRTI Replay.