‘A Universe of Dreams’ — imagination comes alive

By February 18, 2011

ENSEMBLE GALILEI, pictured with narrator Neal Conan (center, back row) will perform the musical portion of the tri-media presentation "Universe of Dreams" Saturday, Feb. 26, at Three Stages. Courtesy photo

There is no sound in space. But if there were, it might as well be the soundtrack to “A Universe of Dreams,” coming to Three Stages at Folsom Lake College  Saturday, Feb. 26.

Featuring projected images from the Hubble Space Telescope, “A Universe of Dreams” is music, poetry and stories performed by Ensemble Galilei and narrator Neal Conan of National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation.”

The written words of Stanley Kunitz, Jim Harrison, William Shakespeare and a re-telling of a Navajo Creation Myth are all read over the traditional Celtic and Neo-Baroque sounds of Ensemble Galilei, joining the imaginative wonderment of times past with the limited modern insight into the vastness of the universe.

Founded in 1990, Ensemble Galilei is now in its 20th season. According to founding member Carolyn Anderson Surrick, the multimedia performances were born out of a chance meeting between her and Conan in 2000.

“We used to do a lot of Christmas concerts,” she said in an interview with Village Life. “At a certain point we decided we’d played every carol ever written. I’d met Neil at an NPR conference in Chicago in 2000 and I knew he was interested so I asked him to join us in a show featuring poetry and music. We eventually took it a step further and added photos.”

Conan described his serendipitous meeting with Surrick. “I met Carolyn earlier that evening, but later heard her practicing her viola da gamba in her hotel room from the hallway,” he said in a phone interview Monday. “I was intrigued by this beautiful sound, so I knocked on the door and she answered. We became instant friends.”

Conan has remained a fixture with the group ever since and considers himself lucky, especially for a guy who’s never played a note of music in his life.

“I keep trying to get them to rearrange some of their music to include a kazoo,” he joked. “But I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon, so I’ll stick with the reading.”

ORION NEBULA, image from the Hubble Telescope.

Ensemble Galilei’s creative process is completely collaborative, with all the participating musicians, Conan and occasionally actor Lily Knight bringing ideas to the table.

“It’s a very interesting process,” Conan said. “For ‘Universe of Dreams’ it was Carolyn’s idea to use the Hubble images. Everybody was asked to bring poetry, prose or pieces of music. I’d try reading slower or faster and the final decision came down to the the goosebump test — everybody knew it when we had something that worked.”

Ensemble Galilei performs “Universe of Dreams” at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at threestages.net or from Three Stages’ Ticket Office at (916) 608-6888. Three Stages is located on the west side of Folsom Lake College campus in Folsom.

Andy Laughlin


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