On Saturday evening, the Yale Symphony Orchestra transported a packed Woolsey Hall through the cosmos in a program titled “Transcendent Worlds.” The performance — which featured works by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst — marks the YSO’s final Woolsey Hall concert of the semester.
The program began with English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.” This early 20th-century take on a 16th-century melody by Thomas Tallis is written for a string orchestra divided into three sections, creating a haunting multi-voice opening for the concert. Following “Fantasia,” the orchestra performed Gustav Holst’s “Invocation for Cello and Orchestra” which featured principal cellist Henry Shapard ’20 as a soloist.
“I’m just extremely grateful to the entire YSO community for being so supportive of the project in general,” Shapard said. “It was a piece of great personal meaning to Holst, and it was particularly special to get the chance to realize that so long after he wrote it.”
For many audience members, Shapard’s cello solo was one of the highlights of the night.
“I thought it was very powerful,” said audience member Miles Waits ’21. “It was very obvious [Shapard] was passionate about the music.”
The program culminated with Holst’s well-known symphonic work, “The Planets,” which premiered a century ago. Each of the seven movements in this orchestral suite is named after a planet in the Solar System, accompanied by a characteristic. For example, movement titles include “Mars, the Bringer of War” and “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity.”
Saturday’s concert also included many special effects. During the performance of “The Planets,” the orchestra played before a lowered screen that displayed projections courtesy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
The projected images shifted throughout the performance, bringing the audience along for a journey through space. The visual presentation included rover pictures of Mars, the orbits of moons and various computer-generated imaging features.
The movement titled “Venus, Bringer of Peace” featured a violin solo performed by YSO’s concertmaster Evan Pasternak ’19.
“For me, Venus is one of the most satisfying movements in ‘The Planets,’ as its peaceful and soothing textures distinguish it from the nervous energy of ‘Mars’ and ‘Mercury,’” he said. “It has been thrilling to perform because it requires an ethereal quality to really make special.”
During the final movement of the piece — “Neptune, the Mystic” — an invisible chorus accompanied the YSO from the top right balcony. This eerie melody was sung by the Elm City Girls’ Choir, a local ensemble of singers under the age of 18.
“The concert, in general, was very special to me,” said audience member SungMi Johnson ’21 who sang in the Elm City Girl’s Choir for nine years before coming to Yale. “To see my friend from Elm City performing with my friend from YSO was something I had been anticipating since coming to Yale.”
Johnson, a member of the Yale Glee Club, also said that the performance with the choir was “very powerful” and that it was “nice to once again hear an alto soprano group.”
“My favorite part was when the choir comes in during the last movement,” said YSO cellist Matt Udry ’22. “Especially since Woolsey is such a reverberant hall, it makes the choir sound especially distant and ethereal.”
The Yale Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1965 and is the largest orchestra in Yale College.
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