National Geographic: Symphony for Our World

The breathtaking natural history footage combined with live symphonic performance sent a noble message: Save the Earth

Courtesy of National Geographic

A raucous concert-going crowd rose to its feet as one following the last strains of the final movement of National Geographic's Sym­phony for Our World, performed impeccably by the Austin Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Austin under the assured and engaging direction of guest conductor Kelly Corcoran.

Just witnessed, a feast for the eyes and a tug on the conscience. For the eyes (and heart), video and photographic footage of Earth's glorious animal and floral life shot in the most remote parts of our planet, featuring awe-inspiring and intimate interactions between species a-hunting, breeding, feeding, and playing. The breathtaking natural history footage was underscored by classical music: excerpts from works by Maur­ice Ravel and a newly minted "symphony" composed by Austin Fray and Andrew Chris­tie, two members of the Bleeding Fin­gers Music composer collective.

The conscience-tugging, for which this particular Austin audience didn't really require the nudge, came in the form of brief videotaped entreaties by Nat Geo explorers and photographers not to take our planet for granted. That said, it bears constant repeating: Earth is under assault from man. Scientists have named this the Anthropocene epoch, the period when man's impact on the planet achieved measurable effect, including our deleterious impact on Earth's climate. Yet, per the explorers' messages, there is still hope, still time to stave off inevitable catastrophic change. This multimedia production is a noble effort in support of that cause: Save the Earth.

Jason Michael Paul, producer and creative entrepreneur behind this collaboration with National Geographic Partners, enthuses that the future of live classical music lies in such multimedia events – combinations of onscreen imagery and orchestral performance to help negotiate the gap between music and audience. It's a road already well-traveled, with orchestras performing live scores for films, for example – three weeks ago, the string quartet invoke accompanied the animated feature The Adventures of Prince Ach­med as part of the 2018 Austin Chamber Music Fest­ival. Given the energetic response by the all-ages audience on Saturday night, Symphony for Our World certainly serves as a valuable entry point, a visually stunning gateway drug for classical musicgoers of the future.

The score by composers Fray and Christie is adequate, suitably dramatic for the random visuals their music accompanies without being particularly challenging. Working more from an outline than a recognizable symphonic structure, Symphony for Our World is a collage in five movements, starting in the sea and progressing skyward via shore, land, and mountain. Each movement is subdivided into commercial-length vignettes that underscore stunning video of life in each milieu. You'll hear the same sounds accompanying opening credits to prestige television dramas or montages from NBC's coverage of the Tour de France.

It's a comfortable, familiar soundtrack. The real stars of the show are Earth's endangered species. Though if we get too comfortable, 100 years from now this piece will be a reminder of all that was lost from a once-vibrant planet, a Requiem for Our World.

National Geographic: Symphony for Our World

Dell Hall at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside
July 28

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Austin Symphony Orchestra, Chorus Austin, Kelly Corcoran, National Geographic, Jason Michael Paul, Austin Fray, Andrew Christie, Bleeding Fingers Music

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