Ground control to the Conway Symphony Orchestra


Fans of outer space, music, science and fun in general should blast off to the University of Central Arkansas on Saturday, March 11 for the Conway Symphony Orchestra‘s performance of the classic interstellar orchestral work Gustav Holst’s The PlanetsBut this is not your average symphony performance—there’s a full schedule of space-based activities planned pre- and post show.

The evening starts at 6 p.m. with a STEAM fair in the lobby of Reynolds Performance Hall. Local organizations involved in science, technology, engineering, art and math—including the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society; the UCA physics, math, and biology departments; the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts; the Central Arkansas Nature Center; and Zuni Learning Tree—will be manning interactive tables full of hands-on activities and games with a STEAM edge.

Then it’s on to the concert, which starts at 7:30 p.m. and opens with the dramatic theme from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yu-hsuan Vivian Chang, the winner of the 2017 UCA Concerto Competition, will be a featured performer and will play the third movement of Richard Strauss’s Horn Concerto No.1. The star of the program, of course, will be Holst’s ever-popular piece. Written approximately a century ago, the piece is structured in seven movements—one representing each of the planets known at that time, excluding Earth. One thing some people might not know is that the composer took his inspiration not from the astronomical qualities of each planet, but from the astrological ones associated with the Greek and Roman gods the planets were named after. So Mars, the god of war, is loud and bombastic, while Mercury, “the winged,” is fast. Before each movement, Dr. Scott Austin from the UCA Physics and Astronomy Department will give a narrative about the planet.

For an encore, the orchestra is going to do something really out of this world. You may have read about the recent evidence of a new, ninth planet discovered by researchers at Caltech University. Area students have been invited to create a narrative and image of what they think “Planet Nine” might be like, as well as to give it a name. In honor of the new planet and the winning submission, the orchestra will compose and perform—spontaneously and on the spot—a new work inspired by this new planet. The winning student will be invited on stage to describe the planet, just as Dr. Austin did for each movement of Holst’s The Planets.

Lest you think we’ve reached the outer edge of this evening’s solar system, there’s more. After the performance, attendees are invited across campus for cookies and punch, a showcase of the constellations in the new planetarium of the Conway Corporation Center for the Sciences, and, weather permitting, a tour of the night sky at the observatory.

Tickets are only $5 for children and students, $20-$38 for adults, and $15 each for groups of ten or more. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the orchestra’s website or call the box office at (501) 450-3265.