Jan. 14, 2010

Cornell musician's tribute to Saturn arrives on DVD

The art of music meets Saturn: A sultry, circular and sweeping 10-minute concerto, "Anillos" -- perfectly timed to breathtaking and ethereal images of the planet Saturn and its rings and moons from NASA's Cassini-Huygens mission -- is now available on DVD.

Composed by Grammy nominee and Cornell professor of music Roberto Sierra, "Anillos" (meaning rings in Spanish) is presented on the DVD with a full orchestra and slide show.

Elizabeth Bilson, retired administrative director for Cornell's Center for Radiophysics and Space Research, had wondered if the spectacular images of the ringed planet from NASA's Cassini-Huygens mission, which she described as "sheer aesthetic pleasure," might inspire an original musical piece for the October 2008 annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society/Division of Planetary Science in Ithaca. She had worked on the American Museum of Natural History's exhibit of the images with Joe Burns, the Irving Porter Church Professor of Engineering and Professor of Astronomy and a member of the Cassini mission.

Bilson floated the idea past composer Sierra, Cornell's Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities.

"I thought he would laugh at me," Bilson later confessed.

Instead, Sierra took on the challenge. Inspired by the images and using essays by 17th-century astronomer and musician Christiaan Huygens as his guide, Sierra composed the full-orchestra piece "Anillos," which premiered at the AAS/DPS meeting in October 2008.

The DVD features Chris Younghoon Kim, Cornell director of orchestras, conducting the Cornell Symphony Orchestra with percussion soloist Tim Feeney, director of percussion ensembles at Cornell. Matthew Hedman, a research associate in astronomy, created the video sequence that accompanies the music. The DVD also features interviews with Sierra and Burns, on the music and science of "Anillos."

A sample of the music may be heard here.

"Anillos" is available for $15 at Buffalo Street Books, Dewitt Mall, 215 N. Cayuga St., Ithaca (buffalostreetbooks@hotmail.com); the Department of Astronomy, 104 Space Sciences Building; and mail orders are accepted by Bilson at emb9@cornell.edu.