"Antifa is from Mars, Holst is from Venus"

Jmaurone's picture
Submitted by Jmaurone on Thu, 2017-11-09 04:28

This past Saturday (November 4th, 2017) was supposed to have been the rise of Antifa's "relentess civil war", and we were promised demonstrations and disruption, from city to city. Having moved out of downtown Philadelphia back in 2013, I've pretty much stayed away, since, due in no small part to the increased disruption of these protests since the election, last year.

Why, then, did I decide to trek into the city on that particular Saturday night?

Because the Philadelphia Orchestra was performing THE PLANETS by Gustav Holst, that's why. It's my favorite orchestral piece of all-time. It was on my musical "bucket list" of pieces to hear live, and not even the risk of an Antifa riot was going to stop me. And it was worth it.

The Philadelphia Orchestra: "Marsalis and THE PLANETS"

"And you may think you know Holst's astrological work of art, The Planets, but it's truly otherworldly experienced live, including an off stage women's chorus."

Well, to paraphrase "The Most Interesting Man in the World", I don't always listen to "classical" music, but when I do, I prefer works like THE PLANETS. (And, being the space cadet that I am, perhaps prefer the Tomita version, even more so...). I been listening to this piece every night for the past year or so, and have been making a study of it, for my own music. I've also heard it incorporated into other works, in different genres (for example, the British hymn "I Vow to Thee, My Country", and "The Prophet" by the band Yes, which both quote "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollility", and John William's "Imperial March" from his score for STAR WARS, and King Crimson's "The Devil's Triangle", which are reworkings of "Mars, The Bringer of War". And, in a moment of synchronicity, a portion of "Jupiter" was just featured in a new episode of the THE SIMPSONS, the night after the concert, as a soundtrack to a planetarium scene.) So, yeah, I think I know it...but I have never heard it LIVE, and being the space cadet that I am, wanted to hear just how "other-worldly" it could be...

(Yes, I'm a sucker for a space metaphor, being the space cadet that I am, and yes, this is foreshadowing for "the shape of things to come", below...)

So I got myself on the bus downtown (you couldn't pay me to drive into the city, riot or no riot...) As we hit the city, the bus did, indeed, pass through a protest zone. I got nervous, because recent protests have blocked traffic. But this time, all the commotion was centered and contained around City Hall, fortunately, and the concert was at the Kimmel Center, several blocks south. And once there, all thoughts of the protests were forgotten.

The concert was amazing.

It was only my second time there (I want to say 2000-2001, for Resphighi's PINES OF ROME? ). I was dead center on the third tier of the Verizon Hall, which I was told was a great spot, acoustically...and it was. The audience was so quiet during the silent passages that the dynamics from soft-to-loud were perfect. Hearing the instruments start up from total silence without straining to hear was impressive. The pipe organ bass was perfectly balanced with the rest of the orchestra. And the off-stage choir at the end WAS "other-worldly". And the music was played perfectly.

Besides the tight spacing and small seats, my only complaint, not being a regular orchestra or theater patron, was...having to sit still, and restrain myself during and in-between movements. Some might be bothered by Holst's astrological inspirations for his movements, but as metaphors, they capture the range of motion/emotion of human life in a powerful way. It's such a musically and emotionally varied piece, that just demands an emotional response from me. And it's one that has come to dominate my own musical thinking and playing (along with Debussy), that my body has it in my muscle memory. So, while I did manage to keep quiet, my hands were silently playing along (with much restrain, I should add; with those small chairs and tights spaces, I would have run the risk of elbowing the people next to me...) Actually, in a way, that restraint did me a favor; since I couldn't go full-out, I was focused enough to observe the conductor, and watch it done properly...)

By the end, well, I didn't want it to end. It's one of those pieces where, no matter how many times I hear it, I never get tired of it. It doesn't feel like it goes on too long, and always leaves me wanting more (perhaps it's that mysterious "fade-out" that leaves me wondering "what lies beyond", "what if?", what could be...but when it was over, it meant I had to leave the theater and go back out on the city street, and into the world "as it is."

It's a jarring juxtaposition, to be sure. But we can't live in the concert hall. The inspiration of the concert hall needs to be taken out into the world, and contrasted with the hate. And not just shared, but LIVED. As Rand wrote in Galt's speech from ATLAS SHRUGGED:

"It is not death that we wish to avoid, but life that we wish to live."

If the so-called Antifa, who claim that "love (T)rumps hate", while spreading hate themselves, can barrage the cities with their message, then I counter with Holst's suite: the horror of war ("Mars") giving way to the promise of beauty and peace ("Venus")...the quicksilver charm of "Mercury", the joy of "Jupiter"..."Saturn"'s reminder that our time is limited, and not to be wasted...the magic-show spectacle of "Uranus", and the mysteries of "Neptune"...

With that last piece, and the astrological connotations, I realize I run the risk of invoking the supernatural, the afterlife the undefined, even the irrational. But the future, itself, is not defined, and is mysterious. Mystery also includes the possibility of danger. The beauty promised by Venus, the "Bringer of Peace", is a gift that comes with great responsibility, and needs to be defended, if to be kept, while the Mars-like Antifa, in the ironic confusion of their epitaph, can only promise to be "Bringers of War." So it is with that in mind, and as both a challenge for those who want a better world, and a rebuke to the certainty of the horror that would be made real should the likes of the Antifa, that I offer this quote from ATLAS SHRUGGED:

“In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who are its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of man be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved his title. Do not lose your knowledge that man’s proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours."

So, yes, the finale of THE PLANETS is mysterious and uncertain. But, then, Holst did not compose a piece for "Earth". That is for us to write, outside of the concert hall. If the live performance was "otherwordly", then what other kind of world can we make for ourselves, on THIS world? "Mysterious" may indeed be the "not-yet", but it does not have to be a synonym for "the not-quite", or the "not-at-all". And the Earth, our world, does not have to be sacrificed to its worst.


Jmaurone's picture

Thanks, Linz. I really did enjoy it, even if it was a little "stuffy." But the tradeoff was worth it, at least in terms of not only being able to appreciate the acoustics and musical dynamics, but in no crying babies, or screaming children...(If I wanted that, I could have just gone to the Antifa rally...)

People Across the Country Literally Screamed at the Sky on the Anniversary of Trump’s Election, and It’s Hilarious

"Anti-Donald Trump citizens around the country vented their frustration about the one-year anniversary of his presidential election victory on Wednesday by screaming at the sky...A protest in Philadelphia only saw a few people show up; they appeared to be outnumbered by oglers taking pictures and videos of the odd scene."

"Today in Weird Philly: a handful of people showed up for a semi-viral event to "scream helplessly at the sky" on the anniversary of Trump’s election (including a couple dozen gleeful Young Republicans, handing out earplugs)..."

Sometimes, silence is golden...


Lindsay Perigo's picture

I can't tell you how thrilled I am to see you writing in this vein about such music. And I couldn't agree more about having to sit Sphinx-like still. I occasionally get into trouble at NZSO concerts for being too demonstrative. In Beethoven's and Rossini's time, it was mayhem down there, a glorious melee. Berlioz once went to a Rossini opera and left, because the audience were so raucous the singing couldn't be heard. "I assumed they were singing since their mouths were wide-open." I don't think audience participation should go that far, but the prevailing anal-retentiveness at classical concerts needs to be full-on assaulted. It's as bad as an ARI event!


Jmaurone's picture

Thank you, Olivia. And for the Churchill invokation. I'm been watching a series on WW2 this week, and now, when the Churchill bits come up, I'll have that music playing in along in my internal soundtrack...

Great post Jo!

Olivia's picture

In Jupiter, when it bursts into the melody of 'I Vow to Thee my Country,' isn't it just magnificent?! Now there's a spiritual experience for you!
I'm listening to it now - of course, I can't hear it without having Winston Churchill in the forefront of my mind - a man who embodied Rand's fantastic excerpt.

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