Concert examines black holes, figurative and literal

Science nerds everywhere were in awe this summer when an international group of astronomers first captured a black hole on photo. The Event Horizon Telescope, an international collaboration to photograph black holes, photographed the Powhei Black Hole, an unprecedented feat that left people all across the world amazed. Spiritus Novus, a St. Olaf student-run choir that performs newly composed choral music, celebrated this remarkable image in their Nov. 22 concert, “The Music of the Void.”

The performance, their first of the school year, centered around the Powhei Black Hole photo and involved an introspective look at black holes, both literal and metaphorical. Aside from the choir, the concert included a dance, several dramatic readings and poems and chamber music.

The performance opened with a dance number and an excerpt from Cicero’s “The Dream of Scipio.” Choral and chamber music were interspersed with readings from several poets and writers, including Anna Koopman, Sarah Teasdale and John Milton. The balance of performance mediums kept the audience on their toes and engaged.

Spiritus’ concert was divided into four cleverly titled sections: “Wondering in Awe,” “Into the Void,” “Mirroring the Void” and “The Music of the Void.” Even with those sections, though, it took some work to keep track of the changing themes. The programs were only available online which made the progression of the concert a little hard to follow. It was not always clear where the thematic delineations ended and began.

Nevertheless, the choral and chamber music was gorgeous and the other elements well-incorporated. The combination of different mediums helped, rather than hindered, the story the group wanted to tell. Beginning with a celebration of the actual event of the Powhei Black Hole photograph, the performers transitioned to a more metaphoric discussion of the power of international cooperation and unity.

From there, the concert took a turn to examine the “black holes” inside humans: loss, anxiety, grief, depression. The performance ended on a hopeful note, though, coming back around to the awe of the original scientific achievement.
Maria Coughlan ’23, a soprano singer in Spiritus Novus, summed up the goal of the concert: “[It] gave students the opportunity to express themselves through collaborative media,” she said. “Through music, spoken word and dance, we hoped to inspire audience members and ourselves to reach out to one another when we’re facing dark times in our lives.”

While the wording of the message may have been muddied, the performance ultimately lived up to Coughlan’s hope. The Spiritus Novus fall concert was a remarkable exploration of an amazing scientific feat and the emotions discovery brings out in us. The intention was clear and the effect was enthralling.

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