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Science, 'The Planets' align in 'Out of This World' at Madison Theatre

"The Planets" by Gustav Holst will be performed

"The Planets" by Gustav Holst will be performed by the Massapequa Philharmonic at Madison Theatre in Rockville Centre on Feb. 16. Credit: Massapequa Philharmonic

When a century ago British composer Gustav Holst wrote his widely admired orchestral suite “The Planets,” assigning each of its seven movements to those in the solar system, he clearly aimed to open up a universe to his listeners.

Recognizing the music’s power to transport audiences through time and space, contemporary composer John Williams used the arrangement of Holst’s “Mars” as his inspiration for the legendary “Star Wars” film score. Massapequa Philharmonic Orchestra director David Bernard seeks to similarly inspire concertgoers on Sunday at Madison Theatre in Rockville Centre with his own spin on Holst’s symphonic masterpiece: He's invited astrophysicist Jackie Faherty from the American Museum of Natural History and Hayden Planetarium to align the orchestra's performance with commentary and the most recent NASA imagery of the cosmos.

“It adds a whole new dimension to the music,” says Bernard, who's known for growing his audience through innovative programs (his popular “InsideOut” concerts immerse attendees by directly seating them among the players in the orchestra). “The evocativeness of Holst’s work lends itself to the latest science … the images help connect the dots and lines, enriching the experience. You feel it. You are basically flying through the universe.”

Faherty agrees. “One of my most favorite things that we achieved,” she notes of their collaboration, “is that as you get farther and farther away, both the music and the images become more ethereal. You really do feel the distance, the journey.”

As an example, Bernard points to Neptune, a gaseous planet represented in Holst’s complementary movement with the inclusion of the celesta, a percussion instrument named for its heavenly sound. Before the performance of each of the suite’s seven sections, Bernard notes its history and particular style of orchestration, which Holst based more on the mythological personality of the planets than on scientific knowledge. The pulsing, militaristic rhythms of “Mars,” for example, evoke the Roman god of war that shares its name and the danger implied by the planet’s red glow.

While in this instance the score supports what is known today — “Mars’ sweeping landscape is pulverized with horrendous radiation,” notes Faherty — it is not the case for the entire concert. The presentation of “Venus,” which counts a 30-second film segment among the never-before-seen images, does not correlate with its true environment. “The music is quite loving, with beautiful legato. We had thought Venus was this gorgeous world, but it turns out we were just looking at its atmosphere. Its surface is harsh, formed by volcanic activity.”

While the rare views presented by Faherty often explode expectations, she and Bernard hope this event will explode the possibilities for their local audience. “I know for sure, they will be dazzled,” says Bernard. “They will learn and listen and hopefully be inspired to see the universe in different ways.”

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WHAT “Out Of This World”

WHEN | WHERE 3 p.m. Sunday, Madison Theatre at Molloy College, 1000 Hempstead Ave., Rockville Centre

INFO $25-$55; 516-323-4444, madisontheatreny.org

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