American Museum of Natural History, astronomy, Ben Allison, Berlin by Overnight, Daniel Hope, galaxy, Hall of Planet Earth, jazz, Johann Paul von Westhoff, Max Richter, New York, raga, Rose Center for Earth and Space, space, Spheres, star, string bass, telescope, violin, zircon
When Daniel Hope was a boy, the only thing he loved as much as his violin was his telescope. Gazing into the night sky, he pondered the vastness of space. Now a grown man, Hope still has a penchant for wonder and discovery – especially when it comes to music.
He’s known primarily as a Brahms and Beethoven kind of classical violinist, but Hope enjoys exploring neighboring musical galaxies through flights into jazz, Indian ragas and contemporary music.
In his latest album, Spheres, Hope returns to the spirit of those early astronomical adventures. His idea, he says, is “to bring together music and time, including works by composers from different centuries who might perhaps not always be found in the same galaxy.” The unifying factor is the big question: Is there anything out there?
What better place to play with that ancient query than the Rose Center for Earth and Space at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. We invited Hope and jazz bassist-composer Ben Allison into the “performance crater” in the Hall of Planet Earth.
As if the Hall isn’t interactive enough – with its glowing orbs and 4.3 billion-year-old zircon crystal – we wrangled afternoon museum-goers to participate in our own Earth and sky expedition. Equipped with small flashlights, they became the twinkling stars surrounding Hope and Allison in the darkened room.
The music seems to live and breathe in the space, as each of the three pieces (spanning four centuries) reverberates a unique voice. Imitation of the Bells, with its rippling arpeggios and tolling bass line, comes from the long forgotten Johann Paul von Westhoff, a German violin master who crisscrossed Europe a generation before J. S. Bach. In Berlin by Overnight, from contemporary Max Richter, Hope’s violin asteroids whiz past while Allison’s bass propels through outer space. And finally, the otherworldly beauty that is Bach’s Air on a G String (BWV 1068) floats in a safe, gentle stasis.
Landing back on Earth, we may come away from our journey with more questions than answers, just like little Daniel with his telescope. But one thing is certain – we heard some terrific music along the way.
Tom Huizenga – National Public Radio