First Hop Commission Linking Arts and STEM Subjects

First Hop Commission Linking Arts and STEM Subjects

Music inspired by biology, April 30;

First Hop commission linking arts and "STEM" subjects

Photo: Fay Wang. Photo courtesy of the artist.

HANOVER, NH—How does science inspire music, and vice versa? Emerging composer Fay Wang, whose work has been played by everyone from the China Philharmonic Orchestra to Bang On A Can All-Stars, leads a musical ensemble in the premiere of Mucrobes—Music and Microbes, in a program titled "STEM Arts: Music and Biology," on Wednesday, April 30, at 6:30 pm in Oopik Auditorium of Dartmouth's Life Sciences Building. Admission is free.

Serving as both conductor and vocalist, Wang is joined by three cellos, electric guitar, keyboard and percussion.

Wang created the work as the first of what Dartmouth's Hopkins Center for the Arts hopes will be a series of commissions in which artists collaborate with researchers and students in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). As with other recent cross-disciplinary programming by the Hop—such as last spring's collaboration with the Thayer School of Engineering centering on a work-in-progress opera about inventor Nikola Tesla—the commission is part of the Hop's three-year Mellon Foundation-funded initiative to more broadly engage students in the arts, especially classical music. The initiative has included substantive, multi-campus research that—among other findings—indicates that students more readily engage in the arts when they see the arts' connection to other academic areas.

Mucrobes brought Wang together with scientists and students in Dartmouth's Department of Biological Sciences and Geisel School of Medicine. "The goal is to bring science students closer to a creative process and for them to better understand how a composer views the natural world," Wang said in an interview published in full on her website. "In terms of scientific content, the faculty are most interested in the idea of microbial evolution, including resistance to antibiotics. There is also an inherent drama of dying, rebounding, and resisting—a kind of a circle of resistance involving more and more tension… This project might sound boring and nerdy to others, but to me, it’s really exciting and I could tell that some of my musical concepts, languages and characteristics fit this project well."

"There are so many parallels between art and science," said Elizabeth Smith, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences. "In science, we observe phenomena, we see when X happens, B always happens, there's a pattern, we generate hypotheses, we test them to see is that really true. I feel like artists do the same thing. They're observing nature, they're observing all kinds of things, and they're interpreting various patterns. Fay is interpreting microbiology in a very musical sense. In both cases there's an element of experimentation and uncertainty and surprise about the outcome."

Artistic expression and scientific thinking complement each other, Smith said. "You can almost think about it like cross-training. You wouldn't just do one thing to be good at a particular sport, and I feel like parts of your brain that you use to do science are strengthened and benefit from the parts of your brain that you use when participating in art."

"I'm curious, I don't know what will come out of this," said Olga Zhaxybayeva, an assistant professor in biological and computer science and among those with whom Wang spent time. "A lot of times people don't know science is fun. I think this [Wang's composition] is part of the fun."

Working with Zhaxybayeva, Geisel Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology Deborah Hogan and Postdoctoral Researcher Salvador Almagro-Moreno, among others, Wang learned about evolutionary biology, spent time in a neo-natal intensive care unit and observed organisms under an electron microscope. These experiences formed the spine of her composition, Wang says. The piece begins with a loud, sharp sound, representing both the Big Bang of the universe's "birth" and the cry of a newborn human. Elsewhere, the piece mimics aspects of life on the microscopic level—such having performers gather onstage from various corners of the hall, just as bacteria migrate about the body. Many passages are semi-improvisatory, using specific harmonies and dynamics but unspecified rhythms and timings, or vice versa—which Wang likens to the random nature of cellular changes, genetic mutations, bacterial evolutions and such.

Hailed as “rebellious and creative” by China Daily, Wang’s creative work spans a variety of genres, including contemporary classical music, theater, film scoring, electronic music and experimental pop. Her works have been performed internationally in Asia, Europe and the United States. In addition she has created her own unique Monodrama Series. Recently she has been working on her debut album of alternative pop. Wang also frequently performs in various styles as vocalist for other composers.

Raised in Beijing and now based in the United States, Wang has collaborated with ensembles including Bang On A Can All-Stars and with ensembles and artists performing in such venues as the Berlin Concert House, Oper Graz, the Royal Danish Academy of Music, Beijing Concert Hall, Shanghai Concert Hall, Forbidden City Concert Hall and Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater. Honors and awards she has received include the ASCAP Young Composer Award and high-profile prizes in her native country. Her commissions include the Classic Euro Young Festival, Roger Shapiro Fund for New Music, Beijing Modern Music Festivals, Beijing Chamber Music Festival, Beijing Dance Academy and the Cantonese Song and Dance Troupe. Upcoming projects include a symphonic poem commissioned by Shanghai Spring International Music Festival; a new piece composed for New York based cellist Ashley Bathgate; and, as composer and co-producer, the RiteNow project—a Centennial Celebration of the Rite of Spring in collaboration with Yale’s young composers.

Wang holds degrees from the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music, where she studied composition with professor Xiaogang Ye, and the Yale School of Music, where she received the Ezra Laderman Prize and John Day Jackson Prize. She is currently a DMA candidate at Boston University.


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STEM Arts: Music and Biology

How does science inspire music, and vice versa? Emerging composer Fay Wang, whose work has been played by everyone from the China Philharmonic Orchestra to Bang On A Can All-Stars, leads a musical ensemble in the premiere of a Hop-commissioned work created in collaboration with Dartmouth’s Department of Biological Sciences. This year, as Dartmouth microbiology scientists shared their view of life through a microscope, Wang created a work capturing the beauty and intricacy of the biologist’s world.

Wednesday, April 30, 6:30 pm

Oopik Auditorium, Life Sciences Building, Dartmouth College, Hanover NH

Free admission

Information: 603.646.2422 or

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Founded in 1962, the Hopkins Center for the Arts is a multi-disciplinary academic, visual and performing arts center dedicated to uncovering insights, igniting passions, and nurturing talents to help Dartmouth and the surrounding Upper Valley community engage imaginatively and contribute creatively to our world. Each year the Hop presents more than 300 live events and films by visiting artists as well as Dartmouth students and the Dartmouth community, and reaches more than 22,000 Upper Valley residents and students with outreach and arts education programs. After a celebratory 50th-anniversary season in 2012-13, the Hop enters its second half-century with renewed passion for mentoring young artists, supporting the development of new work, and providing a laboratory for participation and experimentation in the arts.


Rebecca Bailey, Publicity Coordinator/Writer

Hopkins Center for the Arts, Dartmouth College