Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Hamer Hall, November 15-17

There is a distinct buzz in the air when Brian Cox appears on the Hamer Hall stage. Imagine! A celebrity scientist with all the popularity of a pop star. Connoisseurs of Mahler and children learning about space for the first time sit together, enamoured and eager to hear him speak.

Music meets the cosmos: Brian Cox   with the MSO.

Music meets the cosmos: Brian Cox with the MSO. Credit:Nico Keenan

But before he has uttered his first word, Sibelius. The third movement of his Symphony No. 5 is the perfect beginning to contemplate the universe; it is majestic, controlled. There are moments of great still, which build slowly until they explode. Images of space projected onto a screen above work surprisingly well with the dramatic shifts in energy from Sibelius’ masterpiece. Conductor Benjamin Northey, who stepped in at the last minute for an injured Daniel Harding, brings out the best from the orchestra.

Cox is here to draw comparisons between two disparate disciplines: cosmology and music. Both, he says, can teach us what it means to be human. Cox is a master orator who never dulls things down for his amateur audience, but he allows us, ready and eager, to meet him halfway. He shows us rivers of galaxies, and explains concepts such as “the fabric of the universe”, discovered by Einstein in 1915 (and by me in early episodes of Doctor Who). We listen to him discuss Stephen Hawking and black holes and we catch our jaws hanging slack when he describes the 2 trillion galaxies in our observable universe.

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