This month begins a busy stretch of concerts for the Portland Symphony Orchestra, and the first of the orchestra’s November engagements at Merrill Auditorium promises to be out of this world.

Music director Robert Moody has concocted a program of music he has titled “The Planets.” It includes traditional classical and popular music, all connected by the idea of space, visitors from other planets and the exploration of parts unknown.

The Tuesday-night concert begins a week-long collaboration among the orchestra, the Nature Conservancy, the Southworth Planetarium at the University of Southern Maine and, most appropriately, Space Gallery.

Tuesday’s concert will begin with John Adams’ exuberant epic “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” (1986). Moody recognizes that Adams wrote the music with an “earthbound” sports car in mind, but he thinks the audience might appreciate it more if we substitute the image of a space shuttle or rocket instead.

Next up is John Williams’ sweeping music from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The 1977 movie, which involves aliens coming to earth, had a major impact on Moody when he was a youngster. He was about 10 when it came out, and it captured his imagination.

“What I love best about this movie is the fact that when they are figuring out how to communicate — the aliens from outer space and the earthlings — it’s finally music that allows the two groups to communicate,” Moody said in an Online Insights video posted on the orchestra’s website.


“They use a famous theme that connects us to our visitors from outer space. That really struck me as a young boy, loving science fiction, loving thinking about space. And also I was just starting the cello at that time, so music and space travel have been united for me for a long time.”

The final piece on Tuesday’s program is Gustav Holst’s suite “The Planets.” Holst, a British composer, wrote this in 1918 and cited the “astrological significance of the planets” as an inspiration. He wrote a separate setting for each of the planets.

A chorus will accompany the orchestra for the concert, but the audience will not see the singers. They will be underneath the orchestra, below stage. Their voices will emanate up through the floorboards.

A Concert Conversation with PSO violinist Yasmin Craig Vitalius will precede the concert at 6:15 p.m. in the rehearsal hall.

Tuesday’s concert serves as the centerpiece of a collaboration that involves several other events:

At 7 p.m. Saturday, Southworth Planetarium will present “Mythology of Worlds.” Visitors will learn the stories behind the mythological characters featured in Holst’s “The Planets.”


After the planetarium show, the local band Planets Around the Sun will set up in the star dome theater and play music inspired by universal harmonies. There is a suggested donation of $5 to $10, and the show will be co-presented by Space Gallery.

At 7 p.m. Monday at Merrill, the orchestra will open to the public its dress rehearsal for Tuesday’s program. Donations will be collected to benefit the Nature Conservancy’s Fund for Gulf Coast Restoration. 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]


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