In the Hill Performance Hall of the impressive Eisemann Performance Center on Sept. 7, the Richardson Symphony Orchestra (RSO) collaborated with the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (ATEC) at the University of Texas at Dallas to present a spectacular multimedia performance and installation that was inspired by 50th year anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. The show appeared nearly sold out and the audience barely made a peep as they watched and listened to inspirational orchestral standards while celestial swirls danced on the screen behind the musicians.
Clay Couturiaux conducted the RSO’s performances of Josef Strauss' Music of the Spheres, Claude Debussy’s Claire de Lune, and Gustav Holst’s The Planets, which featured a female chorus from the Richardson Community Chorale. The hour-and-a-half concert soared quickly by and received an instant standing ovation from the appreciative audience. Pairing musical performances with visual effects may seem commonplace now in contemporary shows, but there was nothing monotonous about the ever-changing, luminous nine videos that the ATEC faculty and students presented with the orchestral performances.
The video components used data visualizations of astrophysical phenomena such as sonar flares. The visualizations that churned, twirled and agitated before us were created by artist/technologist Dr. Donna Cox and her Advanced Visualization Lab at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana. Dr. Cox was hosted by ATEC as the 2019 ATEC Artist-in-Residence.
The concert opened with the middle son Josef Strauss’ Sphärenklange (Music of the Spheres), Op. 235. The Wagnerian-like melodies were surprisingly buoyant and divinely spirited. Next was Claude Debussy’s most famous Clair de Lune (Moonlight), which I’d recently heard in classical guitar concert in April. Although this piece was, of course, originally the third movement of piano piece entitled Suite bergamasque, we often hear it performed on a variety of instruments. The RSO elegantly performed an orchestration by Arthur Luck. With no intermission, the concert ended with Gustav Holst’s The Planets, an orchestral tone poem that represents the character of each of the then-known seven planets and the gods for whom they were named. In the Mars movement I enjoyed how the violin lilted through the meandering melody and thought of the random lily pads of Monet paintings I’d seen the day prior at Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum.
At one point the video looked like yeast waking up and exploding as one adds warm water to it to make bread. Although the videos and music were obviously separate entities, one could imagine that the musical manifestations of the violins’ pizzicato or the harp’s plucking caused the sparking dabs of color and strings of blue with white dots to emerge before us.
During the Venus movement marble swirls created faces—a horse appeared to my eye. Soon a chime rang out with a somber church-like feeling. Then a bassoon chuckled an elfish frolicking sound that caused the audience to laugh along with it. In the final movement the mystical human voice made an appearance via the angelic women’s voices of the Richardson Community Chorale. This brought the listener back to Earth somehow and yet still held to the ethereal moment. The coupling of the skilled musicians with the visual art harkened to the idea of how the ancients looked up to the heavens and saw much more than sparkling dots… they paired the constellations in their minds’ eyes with animals, goddesses, gods and objects from their Greek and Roman stories.
After the performance concluded the audience enjoyed multiple, interactive installations, which included Panasonic orbital television sets, archival NASA footage, vintage televisions, a universe simulator, a 3-channel interactive audio installation, and so much more… truly an out-of-this world experience. Brilliant UT Dallas students stood by each one and explained their thoughts and the installations’ workings with passion for their projects. The most impressive instillation entitled, “We all look at the same Moon, 2019, despite our differences,” hit with meteor impact to the current tensions in our world.
The RSO opens its 58th season on October 12 with works by Weber, Mendelssohn, Debussy, and Stravinsky.