Archive for May 11, 2012

Merseyside Astronomy Day

Posted in Books, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on May 11, 2012 by telescoper

I’m just about to head by train off up to Merseyside (which, for those of you unfamiliar with the facts of British geography, is in the Midlands). The reason for this trip is that I’m due to give a talk tomorrow morning (Saturday 12th May) at Merseyside Astronomy Day, the 7th such event. It promises to be a MAD occasion.

My lecture, entitled The Cosmic Web, is an updated version of a talk I’ve given a number of times now; it will focus on the large scale structure of the Universe and the ideas that physicists are weaving together to explain how it came to be the way it is. Over the last few decades astronomers have revealed that our cosmos is not only vast in scale – at least 14 billion light years in radius – but also exceedingly complex, with galaxies and clusters of galaxies linked together in immense chains and sheets, surrounding giant voids of empty space. Cosmologists have developed theoretical explanations for its origin that involve such exotic concepts as ‘dark matter’ and ‘cosmic inflation’, producing a cosmic web of ideas that is in some ways as rich and fascinating as the Universe itself.

Anyway, I’m travelling to Liverpool this afternoon so I can meet the organizers for dinner this evening and stay overnight because there won’t be time to get there by train from Cardiff tomorrow morning. It’s not all that far from Cardiff to Liverpool as the crow flies, but unfortunately I’m not going by crow by train. I am nevertheless looking forward to seeing the venue, Spaceport, which I’ve never seen before.

If perchance any readers of this blog are planning to attend MAD VII please feel free to say hello. No doubt you will also tell me off for referring to Liverpool as the Midlands…

Ars Nova Copenhagen

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2012 by telescoper

Yesterday being the day of my last revision lecture I decided to mark the end of the teaching year last night by going to a concert which was part of a series belonging to the 2012 Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival and was held in All Saints’ Church, Penarth. I would like to have been to more of these performances, but unfortunately it’s the busiest period of the academic year and I just couldn’t spare the time.

I made a special effort to make sure I could get to last night’s concert by the choir  Ars Nova Copenhagen partly because of their illustrious reputation as choral singers but also because the programme featured music by Danish composer Per Nørgård, whose music I have only just discovered. Ars Nova Copenhagen consists of twelve singers of extraordinary individual ability and wonderful collective cohesion under the direction of Søren Kinch Hansen. Last night’s performance was truly marvellous.

To the left you can see a picture of the venue, just before the concert started; we had seats in the gallery giving an excellent view of the whole performance. The choir made full use of this space, sometimes dividing into groups and standing in different parts of the church. I’m not all that familiar with the terminology of church architecture, but that includes just in front of the sanctuary (where the altar is), in the choir, and in the aisles either side of the central one. Incidentally, I have been told on more than one occasion that the central passageway through the nave is not, as is often stated the aisle; the aisles are the smaller parallel passageways to either of the nave. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong!

Anyway, the programme consisted of a mixture of sacred and secular music (some of the latter actually rather profane), starting with a longish  piece by Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen which had the choir not only singing but also tweeting like birds and doing animal impressions. I was initially unsettled by this, but pretty soon decided that I liked it.

There then followed three pieces by the great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt – all of which were lovely, but I particularly enjoyed the piece called Morning Star – and then three beautiful pieces by Per Nørgård bringing the first half of the concert to a close.

Somewhat surprisingly for a concert in a church, there followed an interval at which we had a glass of wine. Then there was a second half which had a rather different, rather eclectic flavour. It started with two new works commissioned especially for this Festival, by Peter Bannister and Gavin Bryars, the latter being a moving setting of Psalm 141. A subset of the male voices of the choir then performed a piece by minimalist composer Steve Reich. Finally we heard a fascinating work by Anne Boyd called As I crossed the bridge of dreams which was bore the hallmarks of an oriental influence.

All in all, it was a fascinating and adventurous evening of music, by a wonderful and versatile group of vocal artists, helped by the intimate yet rich acoustic of All Saints’ Church.

You can’t beat live music. What with the various concert venues and the Opera here in Cardiff there are so many opportunities to hear the real thing that my CD collection is steadily gathering dust.