Music of the Spheres connects art and science

The Galileo Project: The Music of the Spheres

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra
Wellington Town Hall
March 19th

It seems strange that our knowledge of the world and our place in the cosmos is largely based on what has been observed of the heavens at night. Until we were able to observe the universe through a telescope we were flawed in our knowledge.

It was through the studies of individuals such as Galileo that we were forced to change our view of the world and our place in it. The Earth was no longer at the centre of the universe, the dead could no longer ascend into heavens and there was no Zeus or Apollo out there

Tafelmusik's The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres was conceived as a celebration of the work of Galileo for the International Year of Astronomy in 2009 and brings together science and art to show the links between astronomy, music and the mathematical harmonies of the universe

The company creates an extraordinary production which uses a combination of music, astronomy, theatre, photography, video, mythology, literature and history to build a picture of the growth of music and astronomy in the 17th and 18th centuries

So we trace the history of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Kepler along with the music of a number of composers including Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Lully, Rameau and Bach.

While the orchestra plays there is a changing series of images are projected on a circular screen above the orchestra. These are all related to astronomy, including Galileo’s drawings, images of the night sky and recent Hubble telescope images.

On stage between the various musical works Shaun Smyth narrated the history of modern astronomy starting with Galileo’s experiments, his trial as a heretic and his legacy which was carried on by scientists such as Newton.

While this account is entertaining and cleverly presented it is the orchestra which shines. Composed of seventeen players they are all brilliant soloists in their own right. Together they are a stellar act.

Their performance is not your regular musical group like I Musici. These players rarely sit, they have no music stands and are on the move a lot of times even coming into the auditorium to play in the aisles.

They gave the early and baroque music a new sense of liveliness and meaning with their unusual playing. Much of the time the players were in groups of two or three, engaged in musical conversations which brought out the musical themes and structures.

They looked more like a cabaret group of fiddlers jamming together, smiling at the musical jokes, competing with each other for bravura performances or the classiest technique

The two cellists in the centre of the stage appeared to have their own, often private conversation with the cerebral, wry Allen Whear dueling with the more emotional, watchful Christine Mahler.

On a couple of occasion twelve of the players promenaded in a circle around the stage, replicated the movements of the planets, the cogs on a clock and the passing of the seasons.

When they played music by Lully from his opera Phaeton, Shaun Smyth told the story of the young man driving the chariot too fast and falling from the heavens as a comet. This was accompanied by a series of images which were remarkably like the recent dystopian film “Melancholia” in which a planet collides with Earth.

There was the occasional delightful solo with Lucas Harris giving a poignant performance of Michelangelo Galilei's (Galileo’s nephew) Toccata for Solo Lute. There were also some great duos including one where a couple of violinists carried on like a classical courting couple.

Each of the players displayed an individual temperament and playing style which gave the concert a real sense of dynamism and engagement.


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