Above, there’s a shortened form from a new classical work, the improbably if appropriately named Hubble Cantata by Paola Prestini. The piece, which played on Saturday at the Brookyln Academy of Music’s celebration of "contemporary art song," celebrates the beauty of the space telescope’s imagery. It was created by four specialists: a composer, a librettist, a filmmaker, and an astrophysicist.
The astrophysicist is Mario Livio, a researcher at the Space Telescope Science Institute. Livio also writes a popular blog on the intersections of art and science, A Curious Mind, and is the author of numerous science books. In February, he was approached by the composer, Prestini, and librettist, Royce Vavrek, about helping to create a work based on the satellite’s distant, interstellar imagery.
Both were already familiar with Livio’s writing. Talking to me last week, Prestini praised its lucidity.
“What I loved with it was that it was so deep, but also I could understand it,” she told me.
Their first meeting was in February of this year, and the time they had to work on the composition was brief: They had a performance slated for July 25 at the Bay Chamber Concerts in Maine.
In that first meeting, the team—which included German film maker Carmen Kordas—located themes that became the unifying ideas of the piece. With Livio’s expertise, Prestini and Vavrek connected the life and death of a star to the circle of loss and mercy in a young woman’s life. They pondered how the ribbons left by people in the legendary Japanese forest of Aokigahara, famous for its preponderance of suicides, connected to Peru’s famous Nacza lines, massive mounds of earth visible from the sky built by the Nazca people in the 6th to 9th centuries.