Dwarf Planets (2007)

1) Eris (varying duration 6 to 10 minutes)
2) Ceres (4 minutes)
3) Pluto (5 minutes)

for: orchestra (2-2-2-2; 4-3-2-1; 3 perc.; strings). Eris: (4-4-4-2 winds; et al)
duration: varying duration, maximum c. 20 minutes.
Individual movements can be performed separately or be paired.
premiered: by the Winnipeg Youth Symphony Orchestra & the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, April 18, 2007. Manitoba Arts Council Commission

Dwarf Planets was composed for the Winnipeg Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra as part of the MCO’s outreach and education strategy. The original idea was to engage the members of the Youth Orchestra in the creation of a brand new piece. While I was planning this project, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially demoted Pluto from the status of a planet to that of a dwarf planet.

This got me thinking about Gustav Holst’s The Planets and the fact that I’ve been wanting to write a sequel to his piece for many years in order to “complete the solar system.” With Pluto out of the “club” the timing seemed to be just right. The IAU grouped Pluto with Ceres and Eris, two other small planets, and these three became a perfect vehicle for this project. It could also be considered a miniature sequel to the Holst. Coincidently, the Youth Orchestra was planning to perform Mars from Holst’s famous piece during the 2006-07 season.

Members of the Youth Orchestra began the process with research into the astronomical, astrological and mythological associations inherent in each of the three dwarf planets. These associations were translated into musical ideas that we discussed as a group. I would then take the ideas generated by these brainstorming sessions and come up with musical sketches. Over the course of about six months, we read through sketches, discussed what we discovered and made changes. For one of the movements, Eris, members of the youth orchestra created the shape of the introductory section by ordering a series of instrumental modules into a formal musical structure.

The musical material for Dwarf Planets is derived entirely from six notes of the main theme from Holst’s Neptune. Pluto’s and Neptune’s musical themes overlap at 2:43 in the excerpt below.  This is a reference to their intersecting orbits.

The excerpts below taken from various performances by the Winnipeg Youth Symphony.

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