Space Spectacular is a musical celebration of the final frontier
- Alex Johnston
- 5 January 2016
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra plays an evening of space-themed music at the Albert Hall
Space, as the late Douglas Adams said, is big. Really big. Our closest neighbour in space is of course the Moon, but if it were possible to walk to the moon, assuming a consistent walking space of about three and a half miles per hour and not accounting for rest breaks and sleep, it would take you well over 68,000 hours to get there: roughly seven years and nine months. Walking to Mars would take you 456 years; Neptune, more than 880 centuries. You'd need a lot of energy bars, is what we're saying.
No wonder that when we set space to music, we reach for the orchestra. Nothing else can summon up the required bigness. Space Spectacular – which comes to the Royal Albert Hall on Fri 27 and Sat 28 May – features the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Anthony Inglis, playing some of the most space-y music of the last hundred-odd years, including Gustav Holst's mecha-tastic 'Mars' from The Planets (as well as the very catchy 'Jupiter'); Johann Strauss Jr's 'Blue Danube' waltz; Richard Strauss (no relation)'s Also Sprach Zarathustra, the most instantly recognisable sunrise in classical music; a selection of film music by John Williams, including a rare chance to hear some of his fabulous Close Encounters of the Third Kind score, but also such crowd-pleasers as the themes from Star Wars, Superman and ET; and music from Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and Thunderbirds.
To celebrate the musical exploration of space, here are some space-music trivia:
- Alexander Courage's theme from the original series of Star Trek had lyrics by the show's creator Gene Roddenberry ('Beyooond / the rim of the staaaar-liiight / my loooove / is wand'ring in star-flight …'). They were never meant to be heard; the canny Roddenberry wanted co-composer credit so that he could grab 50% of the song's royalties.
- Some of the most famous music in the concert, including 'The Blue Danube' and Also Sprach Zarathustra, is associated with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick actually commissioned an entire score for the film from distinguished composer Alex North, but ended up rejecting it in favour of the temp track he'd been using.
- Artist Katie Paterson's work Earth – Moon – Earth consists of Beethoven's 'Moonlight' Sonata translated into Morse Code, bounced to the moon as a radio transmission, and the resulting echo – partially scrambled by the moon's irregular surface – retranslated back into music and played on a grand piano.
- The first song ever played on the moon was Frank Sinatra's 1964 recording of Bart Howard's 'Fly Me To The Moon', from the Sinatra / Basie collaboration album It Might As Well Be Swing, played by Buzz Aldrin on a cassette recorder during the landing of Apollo 11. The first song ever performed in space was James Lord Pierpoint's 'Jingle Bells', bashed out by Gemini 6's Wally Schirra and Thomas Stafford on a cheap harmonica as part of a Christmas gag – those crazy space jokesters, eh? The most famous song played in space is of course Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield's soulful 2013 rendition of David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'. Never gets old.
Space Spectacular is at the Royal Albert Hall on Fri 27 & Sat 28 May.