By Don Dagenais, KCMetropolis.org
The famed Toronto chamber music ensemble Tafelmusik rolled out one of its favorite programs for a Sunday afternoon crowd at The Friends of Chamber Music on November 9. The program, entitled The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres, proved just as popular with the local audience as it has in many other venues across the country and indeed the continent.
The premise of the program is that important developments in astronomy taking place in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries can be appreciated through a multimedia approach that incorporates Baroque music composed near the times of the events.
The program, originally developed in honor of the International Year of Astronomy five years ago, begins with the musicians parading into the auditorium down the aisles. As they take the stage, a giant round video screen shows various astronomical photographs, including images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Soon an actor joins the group and delivers readings from Galileo and others who wrote about astronomy in their time, narrates various events of astronomical history including the trial and long home imprisonment of Galileo, and even sings a song about astronomy near the end of the program.
Impressively, the musicians have memorized the entire program, which consists of fifteen different selections by composers ranging from Antonio Vivaldi to Claudio Monteverdi to Henry Purcell to Jean-Phillipe Rameau to Johann Sebastian Bach. Often they parade around the stage and even take to the aisles to perform, occasionally engaging in simple dances while playing their instruments. This enables the performers in a violin duet, for example, to engage in a kind of mock “duel” while bowing away, much to the delight of the audience.
Among the highlights of the first half were a musical portrayal of the legend of Apollo and his son Phaetonfrom Jean-Baptiste Lully’s tragédie en musique by the same name, based upon Ovid’sMetamorphosis; a toccata for solo lute by Alberto Galilei, the astronomer’s nephew (Galileo himself played the lute); and a dance from Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo (Monteverdi was an exact contemporary of Galileo) in which the instrumentalists actually danced while playing the music.
The second half of the program is mostly given over to music from the Dresden “Festival of the Planets,” which took place in 1719 to honor a royal wedding. Among the guests at that festival were Georg Frideric Handel, Georg Philipp Telemann, and famed scientists of the day including the English astronomer Sir William Herschel. The musical interludes included a selection from Hippolyte et Aricio by Rameau, an allegroby Handel, and a lute concerto selection by Silvius Leopold Weiss, then Europe’s most famous lutenist. The Rameau selection seemed particularly appropriate, as Tafelmusik used its neat, clean metronomic lines to represent the “clockwork” vision of astronomy established by the great English mathematician Sir Isaac Newton. The performance ended with a delightful performance of “How Brightly Shines the Morning Star” from Bach’s Harmony of the Spheres.
A lecture on astronomical history preceded the program, and a display of seventeenth and eighteenth century works on astronomy from the Linda Hall Library was available for all to see before, during the intermission, and after the concert.
The precise and animated performances of the Tafelmusik musicians perfectly suited the upbeat mood of the program, which is essentially a celebration of human ingenuity and creativity in science. The well-deserved standing ovation at the end is certainly not the first, nor will it be the last, which this imaginative program has received.
The Friends of Chamber Music
Tafelmusik: The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres
Sunday, November 9 at 2:00 p.m.
300 W. 12th St., Kansas City, MO
For more information, visit www.chambermusic.org.
Top Photo: Tafelmusik's The Galileo Project (Photo by Glenn Davidson)
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