Image Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI
Cosmic Cycles, A Space Symphony is an immersive film-with-orchestra concert experience that combines Henry Dehlinger’s much acclaimed suite of seven symphonic poems inspired by space with NASA’s stunning science imagery and data visualizations of the Sun, Earth, Moon, Planets, and Cosmos, projected in HD on a giant screen.
Composed in close collaboration with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and its Scientific Visualization Studio, and commissioned by National Philharmonic, Cosmic Cycles is a bold and evocative journey through the Cosmos that touches humanity’s desire to explore the unknown.
An Epic Journey
“You can have majesty, wistfulness, and ethereality coexist,” he [Dehlinger] said. “You know you’re dealing with wonderful material when it can elicit more than one emotion.” - “Looking for Art in the James Webb Telescope”
Conductor Piotr Gajewski, NASA producers Wade Sisler and Scott Weisinger, and artistic operations director Kyle Schick join composer Henry Dehlinger to discuss Cosmic Cycles, A Space Symphony.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
"Dehlinger's music does wonders...an unexpected emotional punch"
“a harmonically rewarding wander through the stars”
"A grand seven-movement narrative arc"
“an astral symphony that promises to leave stargazers in awe of both space and classical music”
"the ultimate blend of art and science…inspired and illustrated by NASA's latest mind-boggling images"
"an immersive experience that encapsulates both visuals and sound"
"a groundbreaking collaboration among acclaimed composer Henry Dehlinger, NASA, and the National Philharmonic"
“Awe-inspiring NASA visuals combined with the might of a live symphonic orchestra last week in Cosmic Cycles”
"A Searching Four-Note Motif"
Cosmic Cycles Teaser Video (1½ min.)
“Throughout the work, Dehlinger effectively builds atop the foundation of a searching four-note motif that echoes other monolithic melodies we’ve come to connect with the cosmos, including the clarion dawn of Strauss’s "Also sprach Zarathustra" or John Williams’s five-note hello from the film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."”
Cosmic Cycles emerged from National Philharmonic conductor Piotr Gajewski’s long and successful partnership with NASA, which had previously created multimedia content to pair with space-themed concert programs that include Debussy's La Mer and Holst's The Planets.
For this collaboration, Gajewski turned the tables. Instead of asking NASA to provide content to pair with an existing work, he suggested that NASA create a fresh multimedia experience—a new non-narrative film that would inspire a new musical work about the Cosmos. This provided NASA’s production team the freedom to determine the visual story arc of each movement without the need to adhere to specific musical cues.
To compose the music, Gajewski turned to composer Henry Dehlinger, whose sweeping orchestral works he had premiered before with great success.
Cosmic Cycles premiered on May 11, 2023 at Capital One Hall in Northern Virginia. A sold-out performance followed on May 13, 2023 at the Music Center at Strathmore, the 2,000-seat concert hall in Maryland’s Capital Region known for its pitch-perfect acoustics.
“Dehlinger’s music does wonders,” said The Washington Post, which also singled out National Philharmonic, “commandingly conducted by Piotr Gajewski,” for special praise. Agence France-Presse called it “the ultimate blend of art and science.”
"Scoring the Cosmos"
Cosmic Cycles composer Henry Dehlinger discusses his unique collaboration with NASA Goddard and National Philharmonic with NASA's Wade Sisler. Topics include his creative process composing music for visual content created by NASA producers, taking the audience on an enchanting voyage through the cosmos, the power of art to communicate scientific ideas, and inspiring wonder and curiosity about the mysteries of the universe.
"A Grand Seven-Movement Narrative Arc"
“A grand seven-movement narrative arc emerges from the sequence of images and music, as the presentation shuttles listeners from the furnace of the sun to the cradle of the Earth, across the expanse of our still-mysterious solar system and onward into the squiggly lines and black holes of the unknown.”
1. THE SUN
The opening movement of Cosmic Cycles is a celebration of the life-giving star at the center of our Solar System. Born from a swirling cloud of dust and gas some 4.6 billion years ago, the Sun seethes and boils like a living thing.
It begins with a crash of the gong supported by sustained double low Cs on the double basses, contrabassoon, bass and contrabass trombones, tuba, and pipe organ. A closeup of the Sun’s fiery surface with its enormous loops of plasma stretching into space fades into view. As the din subsides to a quiet rumble, the horns introduce the solar theme, a leitmotif that will recur throughout the movement and echo throughout the heliosphere.
Explosions of brass burst through as a coronal mass ejection—large expulsions of plasma from the Sun's corona—slams into Venus, which doesn’t have a magnetic field to protect it. Then, the barely visible black dot of Mercury makes a playful transit across the fiery canvas, while Dehlinger spins a whimsical motif that alludes to Gustav Holst’s depiction of the tiny planet.
The solar orb is revealed as the orchestra, dominated by brass and pipe organ, heralds an epic musical "sunrise" with a majestic chord progression that resolves in C major. Meanwhile, the coronal mass ejection reaches our home planet. Unlike Venus, Earth is protected by the magnetosphere, a strong magnetic field that makes life here possible. The Sun closes with the solar winds continuing their futile bombardment. The magnetosphere stretches out into a long tail behind Earth, as if to announce the next movement.
2. EARTH, OUR HOME
In our journey through the Cosmos, Earth is our most important stop. It is the only planet that we know possesses life, and it happens to be our home.
Earth, Our Home opens with a blend of strings, flutes and oboes, played pianissimo. The woodwinds amplify the resonance of the strings, while the strings soften the woodwinds. Together, they create an atmospheric mood that underscores our home planet's fragile beauty, especially from space.
A prominent aspirational theme—“a searching four-note motif that echoes other monolithic melodies we’ve come to connect with the cosmos, including the clarion dawn of Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra or John Williams’s five-note hello from the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” (The Washington Post)—is revealed as the empyreal scene transitions to the view below from the International Space Station. Emerging from the “four-note motif” is a heroic theme, carried by the trumpets, which produces a thrilling sense of action punctuated by syncopated rhythms and colorful harmonic textures.
One especially poignant moment: using the same NASA data that scientists use to track ecosystem changes, we experience a century of climate change and how it affects the biodiversity of our home planet, before closing with the peaceful idyll of Earth from space.
3. EARTH AS ART
Earth as Art introduces mesmerizing images of river deltas, mountains, and other sandy, salty, and icy landscapes captured by the Landsat Program, a series of Earth-observing satellite missions jointly managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. The aesthetic beauty in the patterns, shapes, colors and textures of the terrestrial land and seascapes may even evoke some famous works of art.
The expressive violin solo, which was composed with NatPhil concert master Laura Colgate in mind, transforms this symphonic poem into a tender exultation of our home planet.
4. THE MOON
Our constant companion in space, the Moon is the only celestial object that humanity has visited. The Moon movement explores our barren satellite and examines the odd beauty of the lunar surface’s monotone emptiness. Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second human ever to step on the moon, described it as “magnificent desolation.”
Flash back to July 21, 1969, and we are witnesses to the historic moment when Neil Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon. The aspirational "Moon Theme" from Return to the Moon, A Fanfare to Artemis—penned by Dehlinger to mark the March 12, 2022 rollout of NASA’s Space Launch System, the main launch vehicle of the Artemis lunar program—is reprised by a lone trumpet as the movement closes with Earth rising above the lunar horizon.
5. PLANETARY FANTASIA
Planetary Fantasia is a journey to each of the other planets of our solar system. It kicks off with a musical depiction of Mercury's quicksilver elusiveness, before moving on to Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
Mars is the star of the show, as NASA makes preparations for human missions to travel there. Gustav Holst’s musical rendering of the Red Planet is the inspiration for the terse, col legno strings that introduce the Mars section. The sweeping Martian mini-rhapsody gives way to dissonant woodwinds as robotic orbiters, landers and mobile laboratories roam the barren landscape.
Jupiter, the king of the planets, is impressive and majestic. Swelling brass is met with a torrent of energetic dances punctuated by tambourines, xylophone and gong. Saturn and its dazzling system of icy rings introduce a new ambient soundscape that emphasizes tone and atmosphere over musical structure or rhythm. As we pass the ice giants Uranus and Neptune, Dehlinger spins a richly-textured fabric of soaring, spheric sounds as we leave the edges of our Solar System and vanish into deep space.
6. THE TRAVELERS
The Travelers is a tale about the nomads of our Solar System— rocky objects like asteroids and comets that wander among the planets. Scattered in orbits around the Sun, most of these objects lie between Mars and Jupiter in a grouping known as the Main Asteroid Belt. They’re the remnants left over from the formation of the Solar System.
The Travelers is the movement most unlike the others. Musically, it combines an avant-garde aesthetic with mid-century modernism. It opens with a sequence of dissonant percussive bursts, after which a soundscape of slow moving canons morph into a dense texture of eerie tone clusters. Interestingly, there’s an electronic quality to the sound, yet no synthesizer is used in this movement.
Meanwhile, we’re along for the ride as DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) becomes the first-ever space mission to deflect an asteroid, and OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) travels to asteroid Bennu to bring samples back to Earth.
7. ECHOES OF THE BIG BANG
Featuring breathtaking images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, Echoes of the Big Bang is an exploration of the universe and its origins, from the Pillars of Creation and the Orion Nebula to the M87 Supermassive Black Hole.
To complement the symphonic soundscape, the composer introduces a synthesized data sonification of a black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster, which was captured by NASA scientists. The black hole sends out pressure waves that cause ripples in the cluster’s hot gas that can be translated into a note—B flat to be exact—one that humans cannot hear some 57 octaves below middle C. The sound waves have been resynthesized into a range we can hear. We also experience binary star colliding winds, merging neutron stars, gamma-ray bursts in distant galaxies, and much more.
For the finale, everything comes full circle. Dehlinger reprises the solar theme as we approach a distant exoplanet system with a star that mirrors our very own Sun. Cosmic Cycles closes with a soaring fanfare, comprised of the same “searching four-note motif” introduced earlier in the work. It heralds the musical “sunrise” of a different star before fading to white and resolving, one last time, in a magnificent fort-fortissimo C major chord.
RETURN TO THE MOON
A FANFARE TO ARTEMIS
Henry Dehlinger’s Return to the Moon, A Fanfare to Artemis is the perfect encore to Cosmic Cycles. This powerful anthem marked the rollout of NASA’s Space Launch System, the world’s most powerful rocket and main launch vehicle of the Artemis lunar program, during a televised ceremony on March 12, 2022, at the Kennedy Space Center. The version that accompanies Cosmic Cycles was rescored for the symphony's larger orchestral forces. NASA's accompanying imagery chronicles the successful Artemis I mission (November 16, 2022 - December 11, 2022) from liftoff to splashdown.
Approximately 110 minutes, inclusive of tuning, a 20-minute intermission between movements four and five, encore (Return to the Moon, A Fanfare to Artemis), and bows
3(pic).3(2corA).2.bcl.2.cbn - 6.4.2.btbn.cbtbn.1 - timp.3perc: BD- cyms- glsp- rainstick- shaker- 2SD- sus.cym- tam.tam- 2tamb- tpl.bl- thundersheet- tom.t- t.bells- whip- windmachine- vib- xyl- 2hp.pf(cel).syn - str (16-14-12-10-8)
The following synthesized sounds are installed on an Apple MacBook with Logic Pro or MainStage and played with a MIDI controller.
1) "Cathedral Organ" and 2) "Cinematic Choir," both VST plugins from Native Instruments, and 3) a data sonification sample of sound from the black hole at the center of the Perseus Galaxy Cluster.
C-extension required in Movements 1 and 6.
NASA Media Content
Film-with-orchestra performances are paired with the latest images from the Webb Space Telescope and 3D visualizations created by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and Scientific Visualization Studio. These videos are projected in HD on a giant screen above the orchestra and provide a stunning visual canvas to Dehlinger's space symphony. To help keep music and videos synchronized, timecodes in minutes and seconds (e.g., 00:25, 1:15, 10:45) are displayed at various points throughout the score to help keep music and videos synchronized.
|May 11, 2023
Capital One Hall
Piotr Gajewski, Conductor
HD-multimedia by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center