VIENNA, Va. — On Friday night I attended the National Symphony Orchestra performance To Bodly Go.. with special guest Leonard Nimoy at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. Last week Don Whiteside expressed reservations about the performance, wondering aloud if would be “powerpoint-as-entertainment” and “how do you narrate a piece of classical music?” Don might be pleased to know that it did not actually come off as he feared (and I did too) and was in line with a typical NSO Wolf Trap performance.
Opening with “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (aka 2001 theme) the orchestra, led by associate conductor Emil De Cou spent the first portion of the program playing works from sci-fi and fantasy films. The affable De Cou, introduced most of the pieces before they were played, as he usually does at Wolf Trap. Music from the classic sci-fi films King Kong and Bride of Frankenstein (“Creation of the Female Monster”), book-ended John Williams’ “Superman” theme. The “Imperial March,” another Williams’ classic, from The Empire Strikes Back led into “Star Trek through the Years.” The first part of the performance closed with James Horner’s “Epilogue”from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, with Leonard Nimoy reciting “the most famous split infinitive (BBC) in the English language” off-stage.
Following intermission, De Cou introduced Nimoy who then assumed a position to the right of the orchestra. His Vulcan salute was greeted with yells of “live long and prosper” as if it were a Skynard concert. Following some amusing banter with De Cou, Nimoy introduced the first of Gustav Holst’s planets, Mars: The Bringer of War. Behind the NSO, NASA images of the red planet flashed on the big screen as the orchestra played. This would continue throughout Holst’s trip through solar system, save for Earth which Holst must have thought redundant and Pluto which had yet to be discovered.
My party and I were seated on the lawn, several yards left of center, not too far from the edge. This allowed a good view of the screen above the orchestra (there was also a screen hanging of the center of the Filene Center), though it proved initially problematic to due to the proximity of speakers. I am not sure whether the levels were adjusted to improve the sound or if my ears become used to the what I was hearing because following the Superman theme, I no longer noticed any of the mild distortion.
I felt that the works in the first part of the program were played a little fast, though not quite Academy Awards (R) broadcast-fast. Perhaps an earlier start time would have allowed the performance to be a little less rushed. Following intermission, the pace of the orchestra seemed more leisurely and natural. Nimoy’s narration provided insights on the mythology of the planet names and taught us all that in addition to being half human and half vulcan, “Spock was a Uranian.” Also, Don’s earlier concerns (which I shared) about the narration over the music were unfounded as the spotlight on Nimoy dimmed for the performances.
Nimoy was not the only special guest Friday night. Astronaut Carl Walz, a veteran of nearly 200 days in space, including a long stay on the International Space Station, made an appearance which included brief remarks of encouragement to those who dreamed following him into space. Walz, clad in a bright blue NASA jump suit, was well-received.
The atmosphere on the Filene Center lawn was fairly typical of Wolf Trap, though the crowd may have skewed younger than normal . Anyone expecting to see Klingons, Starfleet officers and Imperial Stormtroopers in the crowd may have been disappointed as no one came in “character.” In all likelihood, it would have been the only disappointment though, as it was a perfect, surprisingly low humidity night filled with an enjoyable performance, conducted by someone with great reverence for the both the music and the sci-fi/fantasy genres and space exploration.
Retconned from Metroblogging DC