Concert review: PSO takes audience on Earth 'Odyssey'

The Earth-An HD Odyssey
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra just returned from its latest European tour, and in its first concert back in Heinz Hall, it gave the audience a tour of Earth.

The second half of Friday’s program, conducted by Nashville Symphony music director Giancarlo Guerrero, was devoted to “The Earth — An HD Odyssey,” a pairing of NASA footage of our planet projected onto a screen, with Adams’ “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” and Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra.”

This music-movie is the sibling of “The Planets — An HD Odyssey,” performed by the PSO in 2014, which featured planetary imagery alongside Holst’s “The Planets.”

The thematic connection among the Adams, the Strauss and the footage was less obvious this time, but it worked surprisingly well. Adams’ fast, quasi-minimalist “Short Ride” accompanied video of a space shuttle shooting into Earth’s orbit. (Coincidentally, the PSO gave the world premiere of this piece in 1986; it is has become one of the most enduring works hatched by this orchestra.)

Accompanying “Zarathustra” were pictures of continents, seas and the surface or rotation of Earth. Images of the sun backed the opening trumpet solo, and shots of hurricanes mirrored a particularly stormy section of the music. Much of what appeared onscreen was unidentifiable, but no matter; the warts and veins and fragility of our planet were lovely when married with Strauss’ textured score.

The same criticism of “The Planets” in HD held true this time — that the pictures could take on a screensaver-like quality. The photographs were intriguing enough without extra effects.

While having a screen on stage can be an acoustical and musical handicap, Mr. Guerrero gave his most confident interpretation in the Strauss, with the footage moving in front of him. Leading the PSO for the first time, he extracted warm, deep textures from the orchestra in this war horse.

Read the rest of the review here