Crowded around a computer in the Tyler Hall offices of ARTSwego, a group of musicians, technicians and administrators peer at the strangely beautiful images. Tiny white moths flutter across the darkened screen, followed by scurrying red beetles.
Then, out of worn and grainy movie footage, an unmistakable figure emerges: Charles Darwin as an old man, examining the flowers in his greenhouse.
The video images were created by New York filmmaker Bill Morrison to complement Richard Einhorn's score for his new opera/oratorio titled The Origin, which will premiere in Waterman Theatre at SUNY Oswego Feb. 6 and 7.
This ambitious multimedia choral work was commissioned by the college for the worldwide Darwin Bicentennial. The great scientist was born Feb. 12, 1809, and his precedent-shattering On the Origin of Species appeared 50 years later.
Texts for The Origin are drawn almost entirely from Darwin's writings -- with a brief appearance by his wife, Emma. They were compiled and arranged by poet Catherine Barnett and the composer.
"My purpose was to celebrate Darwin's thought and life in music," Einhorn said.
Revealing and often poignant passages are included in Darwin's published works, notebooks and letters.
"I can't remember a time I was not aware of Darwin's theory. My father, a doctor, had probably explained evolution by natural selection to me by the time I was 7 or 8," said Einhorn, an Emmy-winning composer. "Since then, I've remained interested in the science of evolution, reading both popular books like The Beak of the Finch and, occasionally, a scientific text, such as Patterns and Processes of Vertebrate Evolution."
Einhorn had long nurtured the notion of creating a major musical work on a scientific subject. The project finally took shape when he discussed his idea with Julie Pretzat, then-chair of the Oswego music department.
Pretzat and ARTSwego Coordinator Mary Avrakotos secured funding from the New York State Music Fund and the National Endowment for the Arts to underwrite creation of the work and its initial performances on campus.
California-based women's ensemble Kitka, soprano Jacqueline Horner and bassist Eric Johnson are performing. Morrison's films will be projected on-stage during portions of the performance.
Tickets for The Origin are available now.
-- John Shaffer
Richard Einhorn is the Grammy-winning composer behind The Origin, which premieres at Oswego Feb. 6.
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