Classically Trained: A symphonic odyssey into space

I first tried watching "2001: A Space Odyssey" when I was around 10 because I heard it somehow related to "Star Wars." My adolescent reasoning was simple: "Star Wars" is great, so any related films must be great, too. Right?

So in the pre-Netflix and pre-car era of my life, my friend and I rode our bikes two miles to go rent the VHS tape (remember those?) from Blockbuster. But within mere minutes of pushing play, we found the opening "dawn of man" ape sequence silly and tried fast-forwarding to the action. Turns out the action never really came in that slow-moving 1968 Stanley Kubrick classic.

Still, even at a young age, I was stricken by the film's soundtrack and how its use of classical music filled the sound void between the sparse dialogue.

Taking note of Kubrick's innovative use of music is the Pacific Symphony and its upcoming "2011: A Space Odyssey" concerts Oct. 20 to 22 in Costa Mesa.

The 8 p.m. concerts, led by guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, will feature the two most famous works used in the film: Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" and Johann Strauss' "On the Beautiful Blue Danube."

Unlike "2001," which used just one part of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" for its now-iconic opening credits, the Pacific Symphony will be playing the entire tone poem. To enhance the space-like experience while listening to the "Blue Danube," a choreographed video by astronomer José Francisco Salgado will be played.

The video starts with footage from Earth and then goes outward to other galaxies and the universe's largest structures, which Salgado dubs "the cosmic web."

Also on the program are Alan Hovhaness' "Prayer of St. Gregory" and Mozart's Concerto No. 21 for Piano and Orchestra.

"Prayer of St. Gregory" features Pacific Symphony principal trumpet Barry Perkins. Pianist Jeremy Denk is the soloist for the Mozart piece.

Guerrero, a Costa Rica native, also serves as music director for the Nashville Symphony. Next week's concerts will be his fourth appearance with the Costa Mesa-based Pacific Symphony.

"I have to admit that I first became aware of Strauss' work through Kubrick's movie," Guerrero said of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" in a release. "The movie utilizes the very famous sunrise introduction from this tone poem, but it really sets the tone for the rest of the piece, which is quite an orchestral tour de force.

"The piece is based on [Friedrich] Nietzsche's treatise, which deals with everyday human experiences we can all relate to: joys, passions, science, longing."

Denk, who lives in New York, is an Oberlin and Indiana University graduate. The American pianist has played as a soloist with many major orchestras.

Tickets for the "2011" series start at $25.


To begin the kid-friendly Family Music Mornings, the Pacific Symphony will be doing two "A Halloween Whodunit" concerts at 10 and 11:30 a.m. Oct. 22. Led by assistant conductor Maxim Eshkenazy, the 45-minute concerts feature Nathaniel Stookey's "The Composer is Dead" and two other favorites.

"The Composer is Dead" aims to introduce young people to the orchestra. In it, actor David Stoneman will solve the killer mystery through some funny interrogation of the sections. At this point, I'm guessing it'll be the cellos. No one ever suspects them, right?

"This is a little like Sherlock Holmes trying to find out who committed a crime — within a musical scenario — and we all get to enjoy the excitement of figuring it out," Eshkenazy said in a release.

There will also be a musical carnival with hands-on activities at 9 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Children are encouraged to come dressed in costume. Tickets start at $19.


Lastly, organist Dennis James will be playing the spooky soundtrack to the 1920 silent film "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" at 7 p.m. Oct. 23.

James will utilize the inspiring 4,322 pipes of the William J. Gillespie Concert Organ to bring life to the classic film starring John Barrymore, as well as two other selections.

James has been helping revive the music for silent films for more than 40 years. For "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," he reviewed scores and sources of the era to prepare detailed cues that coincide with the goings-on of the film.

Tickets for the performance start at $25.

All six aforementioned performances take place inside the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. For more information or to buy tickets, visit or call (714) 755-5799.

BRADLEY ZINT is a copy editor for the Daily Pilot and a classically trained musician. Email him story ideas at

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