Sunday, March 23, 2014

Orchestra performs under space shuttle Atlantis

     KENNEDY SPACE CENTER — The quintessential soundtrack for space exploration was performed by the Brevard Symphony Orchestra underneath the space shuttle Atlantis on Saturday, March 22. Musical selections from classical to contemporary were masterfully played beneath the awe-inspiring spacecraft, which brought this unique event called the “Symphonic Odyssey” to life.

     “We were very excited to have the opportunity to perform here,” said Christopher Confessore, the musical director and principal conductor for the Brevard Symphony Orchestra. Confessore has conducted this group for 19 years and marveled at the accomplishments of all the musicians, organizers, and supporters that work together to make a concert like this possible.

     Positioned under the large tile body spacecraft was the orchestra and audience at the bottom level of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, gazing upwards to the iconic shuttle, which itself, traveled nearly 126 million miles in space before being retired. Surrounding the concertgoers in this scientific concert hall were models and visual reminders of NASA’s revered 30-year space shuttle program.

     Percussionist, Jeremy Katalenic, who performed with the Brevard Symphony Orchestra for the first time on this night remarked at the location of the concert by saying “It’s amazing, I got caught a couple of times just looking up and finding it hard to believe that I’m playing under an actual spaceship.”

     The orchestra had only a brief time for individual warmups, and had no idea what acoustical impact the thousands of thermal protection tiles on the underside of Atlantis would have on the sound of the performance. Little to no sound dampening was noticeable as the evening of music progressed thanks to the close proximity of the audience to the orchestra.

     Two of the songs used to start off this concert were taken from the technologically groundbreaking film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” starting with “Fanfare from Also Sprach Zarathustra” known for its glorious crescendos and recognizable timpani solo. Followed by “The Beautiful Blue Danube,” a soft and enchanting waltz which easily conjured the images of floating astronauts and orbiting space stations when performed in this setting.

     A few selections from the film “Star Wars” followed, which notably left a costumed enthusiast dressed as Darth Vader nodding his head and smiling in the back of the audience as his character’s theme “The Imperial March” was played with full ominous tone.

     A very special moment in the concert occurred when former astronaut, Winston Scott, steped forward to share an inspiring story that illustrated the way music impacted his life. Scott’s high school music teacher came to his defence after he was initially denied access to attend Florida State University. After years of hard work in college and service in the Navy, he reached his goals of becoming an astronaut. His description of watching alignments in space is used as a beautiful metaphor, comparing that to the people and events that aligned in his life to help him reach great heights in his professional career.

     “Well everybody loves music, of course its not unusual for people who do things in science, mathematics, and engineering to also be musicians,” said Scott. “As a matter of fact, studies have shown that students who take music lessons perform better in math than students that don’t.”

     Scott also played with the Brevard Symphony Orchestra giving a wonderful trumpet solo during the song “Stardust.” This was the first time an astronaut played with the group, and in conjunction with Scott’s inspired remarks became a truly profound moment from this concert event.

     Another first for the orchestra on this night was their performance of “The Last Starfighter Overture” from the 1984 film “The Last Starfighter.” Confessore had to look up the composer Craig Safan online to find this score from the film, and even emailed him a day before this event to ask about a few problems with the arrangement.

     One of the seasoned musicians to perform was tuba player Claude Kashnig, who has more than 40 years experience and has been with the Brevard Symphony Orchestra for 28 years. When asked about what piece of music he had the most personal connection with he sighted the arrangement of “Music from Apollo 13.”

     “We’re doing the movie score from ‘Apollo 13,’ and if that doesn’t put all this into perspective I don’t know what does,” said Kashnig. “It just brings a tear to your eye every time you hear it, and if you have seen the film and lived through that moment, which I did, it’s just one of those miraculous recoveries that us Americans are known for.”

     If this performance didn't already have enough uniqueness about it, the last minute addition for the evening was one that has surely never been seen before at any symphonic concert. Audience members were all given gift bags, and near the end of the show some had looked into them to find miniature blinking toy lightsabers. After noticing some concertgoers waving them around during the last song “Star Wars Main Title,” Confessore thought up one more surprise to deliver;

     He encouraged everyone to look inside the gift bags and brandish their lightsabers for one encore performance. It was then that hundreds of lightsaber-wielding audience members joyfully conducted and clapped along to a rousing rendition of John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

     This “Symphonic Odyssey” under Atlantis brought a spectacular addition to the 60-year history of the Brevard Symphony Orchestra. Their success is testament to the creative events they devise and supporters from Florida’s Space Coast that work to see great music soar beyond the stratosphere.

By James Tutten

Atlantis shines bright over the Brevard Symphony Orchestra. Photo by Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider.


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