Interview with members of Tafelmusik – part 2
Tafelmusik and the Galileo team created a performance that breaks the boundaries of conventional formats. With projected images of historical and contemporary astrological observations, a broad and engrossing narration from Smyth in a wide range of different characters, and a fastidiously choreographed series of musical performances that use the entire space of the concert hall and become a kind of dance in themselves, The Galileo Project tells the story of humanity and the universe, from Galileo’s thrilling discoveries and unjust imprisonment through to the free, enlightened future that he predicted.
‘Alison did a brilliant job of putting this program together,’ Lamon enthuses. ‘It appeals to people who love music as well as people who are interested in science. It is so well paced and beautifully interwoven that it never feels didactic. People in the audience see it as a joyful experience; some are moved to tears by the beauty and breadth of the experience.’
In a glorious coup at the end of the evening, Smyth reads from German astronomer Johannes Kepler’s 1619 Harmonices Mundi, in which the laws of planetary motion are given harmonic expression. Kepler attributes a small melody to each planet, and the musicians of Tafelmusik weave these into Bach’s How brightly shines the morning star.
‘Kepler’s idea is that the celestial orbs create their own music, and are in harmony with each other,’ explains Mackay. ‘The night sky inspires so much wonder that it’s not surprising people thought of expressing that in terms of music. And we wanted to finish the program with Bach, because Bach seems the most appropriate expression of wonder at the achievements of the human spirit.’
It is this double sense of awe, at the magnitude of the universe and at the magnificence of human creation, that gives The Galileo Project its grandeur.
‘You’re on this little speck called Earth, and you’re just a little speck on this speck,’ says Lamon. ‘It makes you feel very small and very human and very vulnerable, but it also makes you feel very privileged to be a part of it.’
Galileo, in his 1632 Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, comments on both the wonder of the night sky and the greatness of the achievements of the human spirit. ‘And actually, that’s what we’re doing for the entire two hours,’ says Smyth, ‘showing what humans have created. Against the backdrop of the universe, you come down to the speck that we’re on. And then you look at the incredible discoveries that have been made, the music that has been written, and the artistry of the musicians on stage – counterbalancing those two things are part of what the program is about.’
Far from fizzling out when the 2009 astronomical anniversary was over, The Galileo Project has gained a life of its own, taking Tafelmusik as far afield as China. But this Musica Viva tour will be more than just the Canadian ensemble’s Australian debut. It will also be the performers’ first chance to see the Southern Cross. And they will, they insist, be rushing out to search the sky for the new constellation after each concert.
Shirley Apthorp © 2011