Voyagers, for clarinet and String Quartet

A new quintet by Gerald Cohen, inspired by the Voyager space mission, performed with astronomical visualization at three planetariums

Voyagers, a composition for clarinet and string quartet, will be a tribute to the two Voyager spacecraft on the 40th anniversary of their launch, and of the music sent to accompany them on their journey out of the solar system. The piece is being written for the Cassatt Quartet and clarinetist Vasko Dukovski; both the Quartet and Dukovski are great champions of new music, and I have enjoyed rewarding collaborations with them before.

When the Cassatt Quartet asked me to write a piece based on the theme of “voyages” for a planned concert, I recalled that the two Voyager spacecraft—launched in the late 1970s, explorers of the outer planets, and now journeying beyond the edge of our solar system—were launched with a “Golden Record” (pictured in the image above), containing recordings of selections of Earth’s music, along with photos and sounds of human life. This was sent as a message, to any extra-terrestrial civilization that might find the record, to convey the essence of human life on Earth.

It is thrilling for me, as a musician, to know that those who created the Golden Record (led by Carl Sagan) felt that music would be a powerful communication to beings on other worlds. My plan is to write a 25-minute piece that focuses on several of the pieces that were part of the Golden Record, and to weave them together in a composition that celebrates humanity’s quest to explore the universe, and the power of music to express the rich emotional and cultural world of human beings. The creators of the Golden Record chose a very idiosyncratic selection of pieces from around the world, and I have in turn chosen several of these pieces—a Renaissance dance, a Mariachi song, an Indian Raga and a late Beethoven quartet—as the main source material for my composition about music and exploration.

The composition is currently scheduled to be presented, with accompanying astronomical visualizations, at three planetariums in the New York City area. The first of these will be in August 2017 (the month of the 40th anniversary of the launch) at the Hayden Planetarium of the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. This will be presented with visualizations designed by Carter Emmart, director of Astrovisualization at the Planetarium. A preview performance of one movement, also with visualizations, will take place in April 2016 at the Planetarium of the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, NY, with full performances of the entire piece there and at the Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium in Suffolk County in the fall of 2017. We are also scheduled to perform the piece four times at the Seal Bay Festival in Vinalhaven, Maine (Summer 2017), and have pending performances at the East Village Planetariumand Shaarei Tikvah Congregation. We are especially excited about the collaboration with the planetariums, seeing it as a linking of music, science and visual art; it will be a collaboration that will also offer important opportunities for education and community outreach celebrating the Voyager anniversary.