Interview: Galileo Project set to amaze stargazers

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Tom Hunt -

Galileo Galilei was the original Renaissance man. He played the lute, knew vast amounts of poetry by heart, and was a professor in drawing and design.

More famously Galileo built the first telescope, 403 years ago.

Through it he examined the Moon, discovered the satellites of Jupiter, saw a supernova, and contributed massively to the debate that Earth revolved around the Sun.

In the four centuries since, the worlds of science and music have diverged.

In The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres they converge once more in a celebration marking 400 years since Galileo's world- changing discovery.

"The worlds were a lot less separated than they are now and this is something that we wanted to really experiment with ourselves - to cross those borders," Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra double bass player Alison Mackay says.

This project is Mackay's baby. In a bid to add to the theatricality of the show the world-acclaimed Canadian orchestra agreed to learn the the entire musical programme by heart.

This was so the lights could be dimmed to allow for projections of the heavens - as you cannot see them with the naked eye - to be projected behind.

The challenge of learning the music - parts with no "easily- recognisable inner logic" - meant the orchestra approached the task of memorising over an hour of music in a more methodical way than if they could rely on sheet music, she says.

"We were very aware of the form of the way pieces are put together because we worked at learning it in many different ways."

The project also uses words from the poet Ovid. While Ovid's tales of astronomy were far from our modern understanding of science - a chariot of sun riding into the sky each day, for example - they were underpinned with accurate scientific observation about the movement of the heavens.

"I wanted to have a section from the lore of the ancient world and then we get into the meat and potatoes of the scientific world of Galileo."

For Mackay and the orchestra the process has opened up a "wonderful new world" of astronomy and its worldwide community.

"I have always loved to look at the night sky but I have been very ignorant about it. I could find Orion and the Big Dipper but that was about it."

In the southern hemisphere tour, projections of the Southern Cross, and Venus and the Moon from our part of the Earth have been thrown in.

Prior to 2009, when the project opened, the orchestra rehearsed as they travelled, learning the music in down time in hotel ballrooms or on "play dates" with other orchestra members.

"We have done it so much now it's kind of embedded. We have since done another memorised programme and we were wondering if we would be able to come back to Galileo all right. It seems to be hard-wired in."

The Details

The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres,

Wellington Town Hall, tonight, 8pm.