On May 11 and 13, NatPhil presents Cosmic Cycles, A Space Symphony, Dehlinger’s monumental suite of seven symphonic poems, with an HD screening of images captured by NASA's Hubble and Webb Space Telescopes and groundbreaking visualizations created by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
The National Philharmonic (NatPhil), led by conductor Piotr Gajewski, will mount the world premiere at Capital One Hall in Tysons, VA on May 11, with a second performance at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, MD on May 13, 2023.
“I am very excited for this program, which brings together two of our favorite collaborators: NASA Goddard and my dear friend Henry Dehlinger,” said Maestro Gajewski, who will conduct both concerts. “National Philharmonic has premiered two of Henry’s compositions with great success: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in October 2021 and Amore e’l cor gentil sono una cosa in May 2021. We look forward to this third premiere, which we commissioned from him. The extraordinary visuals from NASA Goddard will make the experience even more magical and enveloping for those in attendance.”
“I’m thrilled to have this commission. Cosmic Cycles is a dream project because it bridges the gap between art and science," said composer Henry Dehlinger. "Together with two of D.C.’s biggest stars—NASA and NatPhil—we’re taking the audience on an exploration of the universe through an immersive experience that combines symphonic music and visual storytelling.”
Each movement of Cosmic Cycles carries a programmatic title that alludes to the images, illustrations, and videos which inspired the composer’s composition of that movement. In the upcoming performances, these symphonic poems will be paired with HD projections of the visuals.
The Sun is a celebration of the life-giving star at the center of our Solar System. It opens with a closeup of the Sun’s surface that highlights the mysterious arcing loops of plasma held by powerful magnetic fields. It is here that Dehlinger introduces the solar theme, a leitmotif which recurs throughout the movement. A swelling evocation of Helios, it is at once beautiful and haunting, majestic and lonesome. At first, we don't quite know what we're seeing. The picture then zooms out slowly, until the solar orb is fully revealed.
Earth, Our Home is a celebration of our home planet with all its awesome power and fragile brilliance. As one NASA Goddard Earth scientist said, “If we were on any other planet, we’d be trying to get to Earth as quickly as we could.” It opens with Earth from space as pianissimo strings underscore the atmospheric mood. An aspirational theme comprised of four notes—the first pair a perfect fourth apart; the second pair a perfect fifth apart—is revealed as the empyreal scene transitions to the view below from the International Space Station. The mood turns heroic, and a new theme carried by trumpets is introduced. There’s a thrilling sense of action punctuated by syncopated rhythms and colorful harmonic textures, before we return once again to the peaceful idyll.
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, composed especially for NatPhil concert master Laura Colgate, transforms this symphonic poem into a tender exultation of our home planet.
The Moon explores the surface of our barren satellite. Everything is grey, yet there is great beauty in the monotone emptiness of the lunar surface. Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second human ever to step on the moon, described it as “magnificent desolation." We flash back to July 21, 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon before closing the movement with Earth rising above the lunar horizon.
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. 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.
The Travelers (DART and OSIRIS-REx) tells a tale of dark bits and pieces of rock, scattered in orbits around the Sun, and left over from the dawn of the solar system. Most of these objects orbit between Mars and Jupiter in a grouping known as the main asteroid belt. We are introduced to DART, the first-ever space mission to deflect an asteroid, and OSIRIS-REx, which traveled to asteroid Bennu to bring samples back to Earth. The movement opens with a sequence of disquieting percussive bursts, after which a soundscape of slow moving canons morph into a dense texture of eerie tone clusters.
- 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 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. In the finale, everything comes full circle with an exoplanet system and a fly-in to a distant star that mirrors our Sun. The majestic solar theme is reprised one last time as the film fades to white.
Like with Dehlinger, NatPhil’s partnership with NASA Goddard has developed over the past seasons. Their most recent collaboration, Holst’s The Planets in February 2022, was also presented at Capital One Hall and Strathmore. Other projects included Journey Through Space with NASA in 2021 and Cosmic Designs in 2018. These programs centered imagery around existing compositions; the upcoming program, however, flips that around as Dehlinger’s Cosmic Cycles, A Space Symphony was created to existing images from space.
On May 11 and 13, NatPhil and NASA Goddard will also host educational and engagement pre- concert activities in the lobbies of Capital One Hall and Strathmore. These offerings include a lecture from a real-life NASA astronaut, “ask a scientist” booths corresponding to movements in Dehlinger’s new symphonic suite, and a touchable lunar rock.
About National Philharmonic
Led by Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski, the National Philharmonic is hailed by The Washington Post for its “powerful” and “thrilling” performances. Formed in 1985, it is celebrated for showcasing world-renowned guest artists in both time-honored symphonic masterpieces and new works by living composers. NatPhil also strives to create remarkable educational opportunities in the Washington, DC Metro Area and promotes diversity through its Harmonic Justice series, which creates dialogue around the importance of racial equity in classical music.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is America’s civil space program and the global leader in space exploration. At its 20 centers and facilities across the country – and the only National Laboratory in space – NASA studies Earth, including its climate, our Sun, and our solar system and beyond. NASA also leads a Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes working with U.S. industry, international partners, and academia to develop new technology, and send science research and soon humans to explore the Moon on Artemis missions that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.