At first it seemed like an unlikely combination – Canada’s guitar playing astronaut, Chris Hadfield, and the 97-year-old Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. But sometimes when you put two national treasures together you get magic. And that’s what happened last night at Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre to the delight of a capacity crowd.
Guest conductor, John Morris Russell of the Cincinnati Pops, introduced the program saying it was going to be a “special evening.” He proved his point right from the beginning with “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Strauss and then continued with selections from “The Planets” by Holst to his final piece, the Canadian premiere of John Williams theme from the new Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens.”
The symphony members, who were all dressed in white, performed with just as much enthusiasm as their conductor. The UBC Opera Ensemble seated at the back of the stage provided just the right choral notes.
But the star of the show was Chris Hadfield. He spoke movingly about growing up in the 60’s as an admirer of the space program and the effect actually being in space as Commander of the International Space Station had on him. His words were carefully crafted and well delivered showing the attention to detail that made him an award winning test pilot and astronaut.
Yet it was his singing that made the evening so personal and special. He sang “Beyond the Terra,” a song he wrote with his son Evan that describes what it is like to look down on the earth from space. Hadfield talked about playing the guitar and singing his children to sleep when they were small. And then he sang his own “Space Lullaby.”
The UBC Opera Ensemble joined him in singing “Is Somebody Singing,” which he wrote with Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies. This is the song he sang from the International Space Station on Music Monday, May 6, 2013 joined simultaneously by 700,000 Canadian school children.
During the second half of the show the orchestra played the theme from the original Star Trek TV series and then the “Theme from Star Trek 2009.” As the orchestra played, images from space were displayed on screens to the side of the stage.
When Chris Hadfield returned to the stage he gave the audience what they had been waiting for – a performance of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” The audience responded with emotion – cheers and thunderous applause.
Hadfield paid homage to the lift off to space with his brother Dave’s composition “Big Smoke” as images of rockets taking off played on the screen. Then Chris showed his narrative skills by reciting the famous poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee Jr. as the orchestra played its final piece from Holst, “The Planets: Venus.”
At the end of the performance the audience demanded more and Chris obliged by offering an amusing ditty he wrote with his brother Dave called “In Canada.” It was a fitting end to a concert worthy of being repeated not only in Vancouver but all across Canada.