According to violinist Jack Liebeck, the art of music is closer to the sciences than most people realize.
‘There’s an amazing link between music and science,’ violinist Jack Liebeck enthuses. ‘In my family we have a lot mathematicians, and all of them are amateur musicians.When you’re reading music, you’re using parts of the brain in conjunction with each other, which doesn’t happen in everyday activities. It’s the process of finding patterns in things,which might be close to the process of composition.’ It’s easy to get the 30-year-old firing on all cylinders about his twin passions, especially with a new version of his innovative lecture/recital series about to premiere in London.
Called ‘The Music of the Spheres’, the evening begins with a lecture that links Albert Einstein’s love of the violin with his science, from the Theory of Relativity to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva.The lecture,by Oxford physicist Brian Foster, is punctuated with performances by Liebeck (named Young British Classical Performer at the 2010 Classical Brits) of Bach’s solo violin works. ‘Einstein was an amateur fiddler and loved playing chamber music,’ explains Liebeck.‘We decided to do it in 2005, the “World Year of Physics”, to mark 100 years since Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity.
Brian had to do a popular science lecture – he told me once that if he saw audience members asleep in a physics lecture within 15 minutes, it meant he was doing a good job! So we wrote the lecture, originally called ‘Superstrings’, using my knowledge of how to put on a show and keep them going for 90 minutes.’ The evening concludes with a performance of Brahms’ Violin Sonatas, with Liebeck accompanied by pianist Katya Apekisheva.‘Einstein loved the G major sonata,’ he explains,‘and often practised it himself while still in Switzerland.’
It’s not always possible to use violin music to illustrate concepts like wave-particle duality, but as Liebeck points out, the connections are there:‘If I stand behind Brian playing the violin, you can’t learn anything about Brian – but if I shine a light behind him, you can discover the shape of his outline. Which is because light waves are much more high-energy than sound waves – which leads into a discussion of the high-energy particles in the LHC. It’s all a gross oversimplification,’ he laughs, ‘and as people always say, any analogy in physics is completely wrong,by definition! But the idea is to get the point across to people.’ And it seems to have worked; though this is the first time the two have given the lecture at a public event in London, it has already been seen by an estimated 20,000 people in Britain.
Up to the end of 2011, Liebeck and Foster receive funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council to visit 30 schools per year, and are invited to bring the lecture to universities, conservatoires and concert halls on top of that. ‘We often have 40 minutes of questions at the end,nearly all for Brian,and we frequently get emails on questions we couldn’t answer at the time – or telling us they’ve been inspired to take up physics! It’s also gained momentum with adult audiences, who remain till the end, fully awake with us!’
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