MSO concert shoots for the stars

Kristen Sayres/Special to The Commercial Appeal
Music director Mei-Ann Chen drew from a previous gig in Baltimore for one of this weekend’s pieces.

Kristen Sayres/Special to The Commercial Appeal Music director Mei-Ann Chen drew from a previous gig in Baltimore for one of this weekend’s pieces.

Memphis Symphony Orchestra Masterworks Concerts

7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, 255 N. Main. Tickets: $15-$85 (students $5).

2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre, 1801 Exeter. Tickets: $45.

7:30 p.m. Tuesday at The Magnet at Soulsville, 879 E. McLemore. Free.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday at The Magnet, there will be a lecture exploring the nature of mythology and making connections between Holst’s “The Planets” and Romare Bearden’s “A Black Odyssey.”

For more information, go to, or call 901-537-2525.

This weekend’s Masterworks concerts by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra play with the time-space continuum.

The space odyssey is in the theme of the works that take us into real and imagined galaxies. The best-known classical piece is Holst’s enduring “The Planets,” an orchestral suite of seven movements celebrating our solar system and the astrological characters each planet represents. (Earth, astrologically unrepresented, and the on-again, off-again Pluto are not on Holst’s playlist.)

But the best-known music in the concert will be John Williams’ Star Wars Suite for Orchestra, which will evoke some pop-culture star power from Princess Leia to Darth Vader to Yoda.

Mei-Ann Chen, the MSO’s music director and maestro, said Williams was influenced by “The Planets” when he composed for “Star Wars.”

She said it’s a challenging piece to play, but the musicians are looking forward to the performance. When she first mentioned it to the orchestra, she says, she got a drum roll at the announcement.

She hopes concertgoers will show up in costume, although the outfits shouldn’t block the view of other patrons, she says. Presumably, light sabers will have to be checked at the door.

The third work is 2010’s “Starburst” by rising young composer Jonathan Leshnoff. He has premiered two works with the IRIS Orchestra in Germantown, and this is the first performance of his work by the MSO.

“Starburst” premiered with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra when Chen was assistant conductor there.

“I thought, why not this piece that I know well? There’s no commercial recording of it, but there has been good reaction to it,” she says.

“It’s not an easy piece with its mixed meters, but it’s well orchestrated with shimmering woodwinds and the strings creating energy.”

As for changing the temporal aspect, this is the first Masterworks to travel to Soulsville for a free concert. The full program will be performed Tuesday at The Magnet on McLemore Avenue as part of the orchestra’s program to revitalize that community.

Last Sunday, a pops series concert presented a gospel program at The Magnet. It was a powerful experience for Chen.

“There was such a good response,” she says, “and we hope to continue to draw crowds and share.”

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