Classically Trained: Music pulls audience into a 'Space Odyssey'

It was a pleasant concert with a clever name.

Sometimes the audience was in awe. Other times everybody just relaxed and watched the world go by — literally, in this case.

The Pacific Symphony's "2011: A Space Odyssey" concert on Oct. 20, in addition to playing music made famous by Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi film of a similar name, featured a potpourri of soloist flavors: Barry Perkins on trumpet, Jeremy Denk on piano and organist Christoph Bull.

Leading the performances was guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, a native Costa Rican who serves as music director of the Nashville Symphony.

Guerrero led the Costa Mesa-based orchestra with a steady hand, demonstrating an admirable prowess that didn't need to attract too much attention to itself (unlike, say, Valery Gergiev, who took the helm of the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall's conductor circle just days before).

Perkins, the symphony's principal trumpet, was front and center for "Prayer of St. Gregory," a serene piece by Alan Hovhaness arranged for strings and trumpet. The brass player in me loved seeing one of the boys in the back brought to the front.

Perkins had his characteristically rich sound that resonated nicely throughout the hall. It provided a calm, mysterious and pleasant opener for the super-classical stuff to come.

Denk's rendition of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 was very, well, Mozart.

All throughout the playing, from Denk to his small accompanying orchestra, there was a whimsical, light-as-a-feather quality. I felt like they were putting on a parlor concert for all us music-loving friends in the hall. It felt more personal, more intimate than Costa Mesa's grandiose 2,000-seat space can generally pull off — and that was what I liked best about it.

After the intermission came the grandiose, though, with the symphony playing Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra." The brass and timpani soared in the intro, but most memorable was the lingering organ. Its rumble was enough to momentarily shake our seats.

The symphony employed its video screens to clarify the nine sections of Strauss' tone poem, which were helpful but not revelatory of the music itself. Of note in "Also Sprach Zarathustra" was part 2's ("Of the Backworldsmen") gorgeous string playing. It's too bad that section of the music never made it into Kubrick's film somehow.

Immediately following the Strauss — with no break for applause — came more Strauss, of the Johann Strauss kind.

"On the Beautiful Blue Danube" sounded lovely as it always does, but this time the audience was treated to some visual cues to go along with it. Astronomer José Francisco Salgado's choreographed video gave us high-in-the-outer-space-sky pictures of Earth and a space shuttle.

We got all angles of the shuttle, and a whole bunch of Earth. Even the aurora borealis came into our view.

I found the video, with the music, enjoyable but not overly awe-inspiring. Still, it was nicely executed and I look forward to more video+orchestra in the seasons to come.

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

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