A few weeks ago, I did a post about the composer, Gustav Holst called A Journey beyond ‘The Planets’ . In it, I looked at some lesser-known works Holst wrote. By a strange coincidence, Holst is our subject this time around as well. There’s no denying the long-lasting appeal of The Planets as a piece of music for listening to or performing. For many amateur orchestral players, having The Planets in their season’s schedule is something special.

Sometimes this isn’t possible though: if you play in a smaller orchestra, a tenor tuba,  double set of timpani, or a contra-bassoon won’t be part of your normal line-up. In that case, an inventive solution is necessary. In this post, we hear how Leamington Sinfonia  found theirs.

Leamington Sinfonia
Leamington Sinfonia

Their solution was to invite players (and a few singers) to join them in an open-house, Come And Play rehearsal. The regular members get to play something different, and their guests see the orchestra in action. The hope is everyone has fun, and maybe the orchestra gains a few more players.

Here they are …

You may have witnessed the Venus-Jupiter planetary conjunction in January 2019. The planets aligned again on Saturday 9 February when 71 orchestral players and 8 singers converged at Kingsley School in Leamington Spa to enjoy a play day hosted by Leamington Sinfonia. This culminated in a concert featuring not just the well-known Mars, Venus, or Jupiter movements, but the entire suite.

Leamington Sinfonia
Leamington Sinfonia (and guests) playing the Holst

Such an audacious work, requiring so many musicians, wouldn’t normally be possible without help from outside the regular Leamington Sinfonia membership. This one-day event was quite literally a harmonic convergence, giving musicians from far and wide the chance to be part of something bigger, and to make new musical friends.

We were thrilled that so many participants were not regular members of the orchestra, and with participants aged from 16 to 60+, we proved that age really is just a number of planetary orbits around a star. In this case, the star with the gravity to keep us on track was the inspiring conductor, Thomas Payne.

Thomas Payne
Thomas Payne, conductor

He elicited his musical ideas through the orchestra in what can only be described as a combination of theatre and musical sorcery. Given the brevity of time to rehearse, including sectionals led by professionals (full details provided below), what we managed to pull off together really was an astronomical feat.

The ethereal ending with Neptune was achieved with the addition of the small but dedicated choir, and definitely gave the extraordinary feeling that we had been transported out of this world.

Although the Planets suite was finished in 1916, and Pluto was discovered during Holst’s lifetime in 1930, he didn’t feel compelled to pen an extra movement. This didn’t stop the Hallé orchestra commissioning British composer, Colin Matthews (a Holst specialist) to complete the line-up. However, in 2006 Pluto was reclassified as dwarf planet, so the original suite is once again representative of our Solar System’s planets.

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If you’ve never listened to Colin Matthews’ Pluto, here’s your opportunity.

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The playday was a massively rewarding event for all those who participated:

I have played the planets a few times. Despite the fact that it is a very popular and listenable piece, each time I have played it, I am just amazed at what a well-crafted, complex and innovative piece of writing it is. I discover something new every time.

I would like to say how much I enjoyed the workshop. It was a really good day and everyone was so welcoming. I was also very impressed by the standard of the orchestra.

Leamington Sinfonia cake
An amazing cake baked for the occasion

Many thanks for a really enjoyable and well organised playday!

Thank you for your welcome at today’s Planets’ workshop. I very much enjoyed hearing the concert and what had been achieved over a short day.

We are lucky to have access to such wonderful music from the Library of Birmingham’s Music Library, and hope to host more playdays in future featuring large scale symphonic works.

Our next concert is ‘Russian Greats’ featuring Prokofiev’s Symphony No.7 & Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.3 (Soloist: Liang Shan). It’s taking place at the Kingsley School, Leamington Spa, at 19:30 on Saturday 30 March 2019. We hope to see you there!

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Sectionals were led by:
• Thomas Payne (upper strings)
• Jenny Curtis (lower strings)
• Christopher Hoggarth (wind)
• Paul Godman (brass)
• Minesh Patel (percussion)

Brass Selfie
The brass section