Year of arrangement: 2015
Scoring; for ensemble or chamber orchestra
Composer: Gustav Holst (1874–1934)
Instrumentation: 1/220.127.116.11. 18.104.22.168. 1P. Pno. Str. (1 1 1 1 1, max. 6 5 4 3 2)
First performance: Rep Orchestra, Latitude Music Festival, July 2015
Commission: Latitude Music Festival
"We went along slight sceptical about whether [the Planets] would work. I have to say within a couple of minutes I was swayed. The extra clarity you get from reducing the number of players more than outweighs any loss of sound (which I don’t think really happened anyway) or texture."
Audience member, Cadogan Hall, February 2017
This chamber edition of Holst’s The Planets was commissioned to be performed at Latitude Music Festival 2015 as part of the University of Sheffield’s Sounds of the Cosmos project. The chamber editions of Mahler’s symphonies were a great place to start to see what was possible and I spent a lot of time studying Holst’s own edition for piano duet. I completed the arrangement of Mars first to test the viability of the arrangement; after a lot of tweaking to get a balanced ensemble and to retain Holst’s fantastic textures and colors, I was confident the new orchestration would stand-up to the full orchestral edition and accepted the commission.
Over the space of about a month I completed the first draft, with Neptune providing the biggest difficulties. Contrary to what I first thought, the loud and dense movements and sections (Saturnand Neptune climaxes) were relatively simple to piece together and balance; the ethereal and sustain sounds in the opening of Saturn and the whole of Neptune provided the biggest headache. I decided to reduce the choral parts at the very end, so as to make it easier to perform with only a handful of singers. The missing vocal parts are entwined within the instrumental ensemble, with optional stage movements to facilitate the disappearing effect Holst created, recreating that true void of space! The original choral parts will work perfectly well with this orchestration, if the performance is blessed with a large choir (or conversely, without a superb collection of singers!).
Recordings from performance at Cadogan Hall, February 2017, taken on Zoom H4N portable recorder. Single strings version