Music Meets Virtual Reality When VisionIntoArt (VIA) and Beth Morrison Projects Present The Hubble Cantata in Free Outdoor Concert at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival (Aug 6)
Art, science, and technology come together at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival on August 6, when VisionIntoArt (VIA) presents the first full-length performance of The Hubble Cantata in an outdoor community concert that marks the first free, live event to combine music with virtual reality (VR). The score, by composer and VIA founder Paola Prestini, one of the “top 100 composers in the world under 40” (NPR), was originally commissioned to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Telescope. For this expanded version of the work at the Prospect Park Bandshell, all 6,000 audience members will have the chance to experience a personal encounter with the Hubble Space Telescope through cardboard VR headsets supplied by Knox Labs. Set to a libretto by Royce Vavrek, with narration by astrophysicist and project advisor Dr. Mario Livio, a virtual reality film written and directed by Eliza McNitt, production by Virtualize, and visual effects by The Endless Collective, The Hubble Cantata represents a major milestone in interdisciplinary innovation that pushes the boundaries of what classical music can be. Presented at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Bandshell, the upcoming performance stars soprano Jessica Rivera and baritone Nathan Gunn, with Julian Wachner leading the Washington National Chorus, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, NOVUS NY, and 1B1 ensemble, epitomizing the “flamboyant, confounding and enticing collaborations” that showcase the “inspired teamwork at the heart of Ms. Prestini’s mission” (New York Times). As a free community event that offers not only a new way of experiencing VR but also an unprecedented new platform for classical music, VIA’s presentation promises its audience of thousands an unforgettable night of “firsts.”
The story is told in two acts, featuring an immersive Virtual Reality experience produced by Virtualize and written/directed by Eliza McNitt, whose films have been supported by TED, Google, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. For the first time ever, this VR experience brings viewers the opportunity to float within photorealistic simulations of the iconic Hubble images that have deepened our understanding of the universe. In the final act, the audience is invited to journey into the cosmos, donning cardboard VR headsets to experience the first multi-dimensional view of space in VR, recreating images captured by the Hubble Telescope itself. Dubbed “Fistful of Stars,” this VR exploration transports viewers into the Orion Nebula, enabling them to experience the cosmic connections between humans and stars on an immersive voyage that brings Hubble visions to life in a 360-degree world.
When it premiered in extended excerpts at Los Angeles’s Disney Hall, The Hubble Cantata was hailed as a work of “luminously involving music” (Los Angeles Times). Conceived by composer Paola Prestini to a libretto by Royce Vavrek – “an exemplary creator of operatic prose” (New York Times) – it traces the harrowing emotional journey of Aurora, a young woman driven to suicide after the death of her child, and her husband’s attempt to follow her. Drawing on such diverse traditions as the Japanese suicide forest, Aokigahara, and the Nazca lines, the ancient Peruvian geoglyphs believed to relate Earth to celestial events, their story offers a meditation on life and loss that explores the intimate relationship between humans and stars. As Prestini explains, “The elements that form our bodies were created in the hot cores of stars. We are star dust.” Narrator and project advisor Dr. Mario Livio, who was a senior astrophysicist at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute, elaborates:
“Stars are not immutable, but progress from birth through life to death. It’s the births and deaths that produce such spectacular Hubble images. The universe started from helium and hydrogen, and all the elements that make up our bodies were forged in the nuclear furnaces of stars. So there’s a profoundly intimate relationship between our universe and our bodies. Our physical existence is insignificant, but our minds expand just as the universe is expanding. In that sense we are the center of the universe. It’s we who are making sense of it and documenting it.”
With Livio’s vision as its inspiration, The Hubble Cantata incorporates a NASA soundscape, compiled from frequencies captured in space, sonically rendered, and recorded in 3-D surround sound by Arup. While each audience member thereby receives a visual experience that is both private and unique, the headsets come without headphones; musically, the emphasis is on the collective experience of live performance throughout. For its first full-length presentation at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! – one of New York City’s longest-running free, outdoor performing arts festivals – The Hubble Cantata will star Grammy Award-winning vocalists soprano Jessica Rivera and baritone Nathan Gunn, with the support of the Grammy Award-winning Washington National Chorus; the “consistently bold” (New York Times) Brooklyn Youth Chorus; Trinity Wall Street’s resident new-music ensemble, NOVUS NY; and progressive Norwegian string ensemble 1B1, all under the leadership of Grammy-nominated conductor Julian Wachner.
After the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival, The Hubble Cantata will tour to opera houses, outdoor venues, and museums nationwide, highlighted by a performance at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust, where VIA now makes its home. The visual component of The Hubble Cantata will also screen at ﬁlm festivals, and Prestini’s original score is slated for future release by VIA Records, “an essential new voice in the future of American classical music” (Q2 Music).
VIA and National Sawdust: VIA-NS
Since its founding in 1999, VisionIntoArt (VIA) has been the sustaining force behind more than 100 original multimedia productions to date. This spring, however, marks the first time that the pathbreaking company has had a home to call its own. Described by Vanity Fair as “a fantastic place to see new music” and “an institution that provides emerging artists multiple kinds of support,” new nonprofit arts space National Sawdust (NS) is a perfect fit. With Prestini doing double duty as VIA Visionary-in-Chief and NS Creative and Executive Director, the two look forward to a long and fruitful partnership as VIA-NS. VIA will serve as the venue’s producing and touring arm, and NS as home to VIA’s showings of work-in-progress, annual FERUS Festival, occasional world premieres, and – with the NS hall doubling as a recording studio – to VIA Records.
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VisionIntoArt presents first full-length performance of The Hubble Cantata
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival
Free outdoor concert in the Prospect Park Bandshell
Paola Prestini, composer
Dr. Mario Livio, narrator, astrophysicist and advisor
Royce Vavrek, librettist
Eliza McNitt, filmmaker
Virtualize, Virtual Reality production partners
Virtual Reality Visual Effects by The Endless Collective
Arup, 3-D Surround Sound
National Academy of Sciences, Virtual Reality consultant
Jessica Rivera, soprano
Nathan Gunn, baritone
Julian Wachner, conductor
Washington National Chorus, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, NOVUS NY and 1B1
The Hubble Cantata is a co-production between VIA, National Sawdust, Celebrate! Brooklyn, Beth Morrison Projects and Virtualize.
© 21C Media Group, June 2016