Dublin Concert is out of this world
5 March 2000An interest in space exploration is frequently considered to be the preserve of scientists, but, as a concert last night demonstrated, this is not necessarily the case. A packed audience at St Patricks College, Maynooth, near Dublin, enjoyed a unique aesthetic experience in which space science and music were intertwined.
Alongside famous works by Debussy, Beethoven and Mozart, music lovers were treated to a 12 minute orchestral film score called Small Steps, written by an exciting young Irish composer, Rachel Holstead. The piece, which was part of a special Millennium concert, was performed against a background of SOHO and CLUSTER images provided by the European Space Agency.
The concert was a triumph and I have rarely heard such applause. I think that, in addition to the experience of hearing the music, everyone was stunned by the beauty and spectacle of the ESA images, said Professor Susan McKenna-Lawlor from Space Technology Ireland, part of the National University of Ireland.
Professor McKenna-Lawlor, who has participated in a number of ESA space science missions, was the initiator of last nights merger between music and space science.
I invited Rachel to my office last year to see space related movies in the hope that she might be inspired by the beauty of the images to compose something, she explained. That indeed was the case. She told me that she was greatly excited by what she had seen and that she could compose a piece. She was then commissioned by the Department of Music of the University to prepare a composition for the Millennium.
The Cluster and SOHO video images provided by ESA were duly edited in the communications centre at NUI Maynooth, according to the wishes of the composer. The selected pictures and graphic representations, which included aurorae (polar lights), the explosive Sun and the interaction between the solar wind and the Earths magnetosphere, were projected on a giant screen behind the orchestra as the piece was played.
In her introduction for Small Steps, Professor McKenna-Lawlor explained the scientific context of the images:
The Earth is submerged in the dynamically changing outer atmosphere of the Sun. Small steps in understanding the complex inter-relationship between solar activity and the Earth came from studying the Aurora Borealis, the wonderful changing patterns of light that dance above the Earths north and south poles. More recently, views from aboard spacecraft taken by different instruments have revealed dramatic activity in the Suns outer atmosphere, accompanied by major ejections of material that reach, and interact with, the Earth and its environment.
We premier this evening a piece of music by Irelands distinguished young composer Rachel Holstein which reflects our present day knowledge of the profound beauty of this Sun-Earth interaction. We are very grateful to the European Space Agency which provided movies presenting pictures and models of the interaction.
The 21 year-old composer, Rachel Holstead, is now entering her fourth year of a music degree at Trinity College Dublin, where she studies composition. She has previously studied piano and violin at the Kerry School of Music and played in various youth orchestras. During the past few years, she has composed a number of classical pieces, but this is the first time she has ever attempted to write anything related to science.
Ive always had this interest in looking at the stars, she explained, but the idea of expressing this in music never occurred to me before. I selected the images for their visual impact their colour and movement. It was very inspiring to see the Sun emitting at different frequencies. It was so dynamic and moving as distinct from the cold, static stars in the night sky.