New Classical Tracks: Daniel Hope's Space Music

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
June 18, 2013
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — "Well, Spheres is really...a journey, a musical journey and it's something that's been in my head for many, many years. As a young child, I was obsessed with the night sky. I had my own telescope when I was eight years old and I would gaze up there and just ask myself that age-old question - is there anything out there?"

That's violinist Daniel Hope, whose latest recording, Spheres, first started to formulate in his mind when he was 10 years old. That's when Yehudi Menuhin introduced young Daniel to the great American astronomer, Carl Sagan. Hope's mother was Menuhin's secretary, so young Daniel was often at Menuhin's house. Sagan came to see Menuhin while the two were working on a project together in the late 1970's.

Sagan welcomed Daniel's questions about the night sky, "And he asked me if I knew what the music of the spheres was. And I didn't, of course. And he explained this idea that Pythagoras had had this rather strange, rather surreal idea that when planets move, they brush past each other and they create sounds, sounds that the human ear cannot hear. And yet it's proven, apparently, that they exist. And when I started to research this project, I thought it would be interesting to look at composers' visions of that, and if there were people who could actually write new music around the idea of music of the spheres and then look at other composers and other works that I felt fitted into this journey about taking the listener to a different place."

Daniel Hope's life has been filled with serendipitous adventures like his meeting with Carl Sagan. Another chance encounter resulted in a piece for this recording by composer Aleksey Igudesman.

"The choir for me was an extremely important element and one of my favorite pieces is Aleksey's Lento, which is for choir, violin and strings. And that was a complete coincidence. I bumped into Aleksey and I asked him, I don't suppose you happen to have a work for choir, violin and strings and he said, actually I do. It's in my drawer I'll email it to you right now. And I took one look at it and I knew immediately this was going to work."

For Daniel Hope this project was also an opportunity to get in touch with old friends like Karl Jenkins whom he first met 25 years ago. "And I thought it would be fantastic for us to reunite and finally have the chance to do something together on disc. So I asked him if there was something that he would like to contribute. And his Benedictus, which is a beautiful piece— he said he would write a violin part for it...and we had a really very, very warm connection and exchange of correspondence, getting the right kind of sound, as I did in fact with almost all the composers on the album. It's very much a group effort when you get to work with composers."

Even older works on this recording are seen through the fresh eyes of living composers. Baroque specialist Olivier Foures was invited to write a new transcription of Bach's Prelude in e minor. "I'm just absolutely obsessed with Bach. For me he is the greatest composer of all time and so therefore, I thought he had to have a place on this recording. He was also somebody who was very sensitive to...let's call it otherworldly influences. Somebody that infiltrated his music with secret codes, with messages, looked at the structure of the music and tried to measure it - in the same way, I guess, that Pythagoras tried to measure reverberations, which was the basis of his idea on music of the spheres. So it was very difficult to decide which piece to take. So I got in touch with Olivier Foures, who is one of the leading musicologists of our time, somebody who has done an enormous amount of Baroque research, especially for Bach and Vivaldi, and I asked Olivier what he thought, if he might be able to transcribe a work of Bach. We got a short list together and that particular prelude is one I love, and I thought to hear it in string sound rather than piano would also give an arresting quality to the album, and that's something that I was also trying to do."

Spheres is a musical journey that's been spinning in the mind of Daniel Hope for years. Finally, all the planets aligned and this carefully crafted, infinitely beautiful recording was born.

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