The Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra opens its 64th season this evening with “Lost in Space,” a program dedicated to the Solar System and other-worldly ideas. In addition to Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” and Nielsen’s “Helios Overture,” the program features a piece many Northern Arizonans may feel an affinity for – Pluto. The planet discovered in 1930 by Lowell Observatory astronomers and later designated a star, is the focus of award-winning composer, Margaret Brouwer. “Pluto” will be premiered tonight by the Flagstaff Symphony. A previous incarnation was performed by the Roanoke Symphony in 1997. Arizona Public Radio's Janice Baker spoke with Brouwer this morning from New York.
JB: Thank you for being here, Margaret.
MB: Thank you, it’s a pleasure.
JB: Margaret, Gustav Holst composed “The Planets,” with each movement comprising a planet and its character. Why did you want to write “Pluto?”
MB: At the time when I wrote it, in 1996, and when it was premiered in 1997, Pluto was still considered to be a planet, and so the conductor of the Roanoke Symphony, who commissioned it, thought that there should be an update to Holst’s “The Planets.” So he commissioned me to write “Pluto.” Of course, things have changed since then, since now they’ve decided it isn’t a planet. I really am so delighted that “Pluto” is going to be performed where it was discovered, I think that’s so cool, and wish I could be there to heat it (laugh).
JB: While “Pluto” was a commissioned work for you, Margaret, what was your inspiration, what thoughts crossed your mind, and how did you come to the idea that you wanted to put on paper, musically?
MB: Well, in the context of it being, in some way or other, similar to “The Planets” by Holst, I decided to give it the astrological character of Pluto – King of the Dead, God of the Underworld – and very violent, destructive, very angry God on the whole, I think. At the time, actually, when I wrote “Pluto,” I was not in the best frame of mind, either, because my husband had passed away, and then eight months later, my mother died, and about that time was when I was writing this, so it has quite a bit of anguish in it, and anger. But I’m a composer who likes contrasts a lot, and there’s a middle section that is a complete contrast (Music under)
MB: Part of the reason, it’s sort of the exact opposite, it’s all about beauty, and purity and harmony, and they say that Pluto, in Pluto’s orbit, comes the closest to the Sun, actually. And so I’m thinking this is when the Sun is bringing warmth to Pluto and sort of there’s a melody that the soprano sings that’s sort of a, I think of the Sun spirit – so it’s an entirely different character.
JB: If you had to describe your writing process, and how you sit down, and start putting your ideas to paper – how would you describe that?
MB: Usually I just start out with musical ideas. “Pluto” was different. It had to be of course, it was supposed to be about Pluto. But fairly often, I just start out with musical ideas, and then it gradually – the piece takes on a real personality. And once the personality is developing – and this was true for “Pluto” too, once the personality is developed, I try to stay true to that, and keep it consistent throughout.
JB: Margaret, thank you for joining us this morning.
MB: You’re welcome. I enjoyed it very much, it was a pleasure speaking with you, and I can’t wait to hear how “Pluto” goes tonight, and I hope they’ll send me a recording so that I can hear it long distance (laugh).
JB: Classical composer Margaret Brouwer. A revised version of her work, “Pluto,” will have its world premier this evening, performed by the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra to open its 64th season.
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