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Creation Project to culminate in performance of Haydn's masterpiece at ASU Gammage

ASU's The Creation Project
April 08, 2015

The Creation Project – a semester-long, university-wide series inspired by Franz Joseph Haydn’s masterpiece “The Creation” – will culminate with a performance of Haydn’s magnificent oratorio at 7:30 p.m., April 29 at ASU Gammage.

The performance is a production of the School of Music and the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, both in Ariona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to present this audio visual feast,” says Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute. “The power of arts-led inquiry is the ability to reimagine and rework familiar ideas and expression. This collaborative project gives us access to an iconic work of art from multiple perspectives and disciplines. In the process, we see it differently, and, importantly, we might see ourselves and our world differently.”

Haydn’s “The Creation,” composed between 1796 and 1798, is an exuberant pageant involving a chorus, orchestra and solo singers, and tells the story of the creation of the world in poetry and music.

ASU’s performance will showcase some 300 singers in all – from ASU’s Barrett Choir, Chamber Singers, Concert Choir and Choral Union – as well as the ASU Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of David Schildkret, director of choral activities. Schildkret will discuss the music and background of “The Creation” during his pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m. on April 29.

Unifying themes that are at once grandiose, dramatic and playful, the music expresses an almost childlike wonder at the immensity, complexity and diversity of the natural world. The text of the work combines the creation narrative from Genesis I with poetry inspired by John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and a few selections from the Psalms.

The performance will also spotlight a guest appearance by Lawrence Krauss, director of the ASU Origins Project, a transdisciplinary initiative that explores the fundamental questions of who we are and where we came from. A noted physicist and cosmologist, Krauss says that he feels strongly about being involved in The Creation Project because of the important role that science plays in our culture.

“It has many things in common with art, music and literature, and I enjoy helping to share it more broadly, through performances like this with other groups,” Krauss said.

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of this performance of “The Creation” at ASU is its unique presentation.

Eighteenth-century oratorios were traditionally performed without scenery or stage movement, and so there was little visual interest. For this version, however, a team led by Jake Pinholster, director of ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre, and Boyd Branch are developing a combination of composed digital animation, live-action footage drawn from existing imagery and shot anew, and dynamically created content drawing on the frequency and amplitude of the music as it happens live.

Digitally enhanced images – from nature, space, microscopy, works of fine art and patterns generated by the music – will be projected onto screens throughout ASU Gammage and will combine with the live music to create a dynamic experience for the modern listener that fully engages the senses. Many of the images used in these compositions come from the research and creative activity of ASU faculty and research centers, including the Origins Project, The Biodesign Institute, the School of Art, The Beyond Center, the Institute of Human Origins and the Mars Rover Laboratory, among others.

“Haydn himself strove to make a ‘multi-sensory’ experience of his contemporary understanding of the universe with the technology and tools he had at hand,” Branch said. “The sight and sound of his enormous chorus and symphony created more than an oral experience, but a total body experience with the sheer force of instruments. Today we can expand on his vision and immerse the audience even deeper in his musical world with digital projection. In the end, however, the visual environment we are creating is merely an extension of an already rich and compelling work of art that Haydn has so masterfully painted with his music.”

This performance of “The Creation” will also use a new edition of the work, prepared by Schildkret, which features an English libretto and largely restores the original text.

“There are huge challenges to accomplishing this goal of creating a new edition,” Schildkret said. “One big question is, ‘When the sources seem inconsistent, is that intentional on Haydn’s part, or is it a mistake?’ We tried to find the best solution – one that honors Haydn’s intentions but is still both literate and musical.”

The Creation Project offers cross-disciplinary opportunities to discuss creation themes in an objective environment. The Herberger Institute is collaborating with other disciplines on a range of topics, including science, politics, nature, archaeology, religion and sustainability, which are covered in events and activities throughout the spring 2015 semester.

Previous project events this semester have included appearances by stage and screen legend Alan Alda, best-selling author Alan Lightman and noted intellectual Noam Chomsky – all of whom contributed their expertise on the concept of blending science with art and the humanities.

Upcoming events include:

Through May 11

“Joseph Haydn’s Oratorio and Beyond,” an exhibit on display at the Hayden Library on ASU’s Tempe campus, explores the creation as depicted in visual arts, music, cosmological narratives, utopian writings and scientific works.

April 17

The School of Music symposium “Haydn’s ‘The Creation’ – Context, Content, Consequences,” in the Recital Hall, is a panel discussion examining the intellectual context and musical language in “The Creation.”

April 17–19

Taking place at the Marston Theater, the “Origins Stories of the Desert Southwest” event involves vocal music by the ASU Chamber Singers, visual design by the School of Film, Dance and Theatre and narration by a group headed by David Martinez, assistant professor of American Indian Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The events are planned around questions raised by three principal themes: creation narratives and cultures; creation and destruction; and creativity and genius. Revolving around the juxtaposition of creationism versus Darwinism, The Creation Project’s goals include to analyze how composers use music to communicate large, over-arching themes and ideas, and, using the creation story as the lens, to see how these topics would be manifested in other disciplines, including the humanities and sciences.

“Through the whole Creation Project, we are trying to cross boundaries – between science and art, between departments in the university, between the university and the larger community,” says Schildkret. “This kind of cross communication has the potential to generate new ways of thinking. Ultimately, though, what I hope everyone takes away from our performance of ‘The Creation’ is a powerful experience with a truly great work of art.”

For more information on The Creation Project and upcoming events, visit

Heather Beaman,
School of Music
(480) 727-6222