Live Review: Holst’s ‘The Planets’

The Royal Concert Hall, 26/5

It really is an amazing opportunity as a student to join the ladies in the fur coats and the gentlemen in their suits at the Royal Concert Hall to witness something like this. Myself and my boyfriend paid only a couple of quid to take a look at this live performance of Holst’s ‘The Planets’. I will say that Conor is much more of a dedicated fan of classical music than me, I’ll admit, I was more excited just to have a wee night out, but oh my goodness was this performance incredible.

We trotted down for the 7.30 start and took our seats in the beautiful Concert Hall in time to have a giggle at the tiny folk, disproportionate to their huge double basses and trombones tuning up. The night started with two short works, which included a trombone lead piece that was a favourite of the two of us, because the player was just so clearly into it. It was a joy to see the pomp and seriousness of the setting being disobeyed by this incredibly enthusiastic guy.

Unfortunately, I cannot tell you the names of these works, and we didn’t know at the time, because we refused to buy a program. Admittedly we should have coughed up for a program… but it was at least five pounds and we were both at the time eagerly awaiting pay day.

After a short break, further orchestra members lined the stage along with the conductor to start ‘The Planets’ suite and there was a collective hush.

What happened next I can only describe as incredible. I have never had the opportunity to listen to Holst’s ‘The Planets’ in its entirety before and I was absolutely spoiled to hear it performed in front of me in such a beautiful setting. Mars scaled the whole orchestra, completely blowing our heads off, but it was after Venus ‘The Bringer of Peace’ came to an end that I turned and whispered, “what was that?” after realising I was so enthralled by the piece that I had forgotten to breathe as it whispered its last refrains. I was sobbing by Jupiter and by the time we reached the final piece, Neptune I was so wrapped up in the suite that I had totally forgotten not to exclaim openly, that I was in the concert hall surrounded by very fancy folks because I felt so held, myself, by the music as it flowed piece to piece that I just forgot to care.

The end of Neptune has the famous choir fading to silence in acapella hidden somewhere under the stage. I was told by Conor that Holst was one of the first famous employers of the ‘fade out’ technique as the choir are instructed to slowly have a door closed on them until the music fades to an awed silence. A silence, that continued for as long as it took for an audience of people to catch their breath again after the suite had reached it end.  

Ok, so, I have to admit a personal prejudice. I perhaps wouldn’t pick a night at the Concert Hall listening to classical music over a gig at the Hug and Pint, and that is perhaps because I’ve felt that classical music isn’t for me. As a musician and a consumer of music I suppose I have been intimidated by classical music for as long as I’ve been old enough not to just watch ballets and twirl about. I have found the practice and the dedication of classical musicians and enthusiasts quite exclusive, and I suppose I could never see myself fitting into that world despite how much I respected it. The gig that night might have changed my mind.

Walking into the concert hall with my pink hair I couldn’t have felt more out of place but as soon as I was held by that music I was reminded of its power in all forms.

It is culture that allows music to become exclusive, ‘true fans’ will always be favoured, those of a specific class or background will always be associated with specific genres, but a composer writes for us all. That music was as much for me as it was for the lady in front of us, dangling her furs over the back of her chair.

I would love to hope that the experience that night helped me to realise both the power of music to emote, to capture an audience, but also to re-invite me into it. I want to be part of the world that celebrates such beautiful, beautiful works of art. And, as long as the student tickets remain a few pounds I’ll be back as soon as I can.

*I have to note also: many thanks to Conor for taking me along and for making sure I clapped in the right places.    


[Imogen Hay – @imogenislay]


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