'Star Chant' Sky Voyage - Sydney 22 January

Take a composer, an astronomer and an astrophotographer, send them through the outback, and the result is a unique musical and visual experience of the sky.

This work, ‘Star Chant’, the fourth symphony of Australian composer Ross Edwards, will have its first Sydney performances on 22 and 23 January at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Festival of Sydney.

The text of this choral symphony, by astronomer Fred Watson of the Anglo-Australian Observatory, is a series of star names, both Western and Aboriginal. The Western names, Watson observes, are Arabic, Greek, Latin and even Persian. These multiple aliases remind us that the sky is the common heritage of all human cultures.

The chant begins with the northernmost stars visible from Australia and treks south through the sky, finishing at the faint and lonely southern pole star. The aural journey is accompanied by animated images from astrophotographer David Malin, formerly of the Anglo-Australian Observatory. “The pictures reflect the music: the beauty, the symmetry and the patterns,” says Malin.

The work was triggered in 2000 when Watson, Malin and Edwards were visiting communities in outback Queensland and New South Wales. They were presenting a work called “Starry Starry Night”, in which Watson and Malin’s commentary on the sky was interspersed with Edward’s music.

“I found the most memorable experience to be the night spent in a swag in the Simpson Desert contemplating the glittering display above,” Edwards has written. “How could egos that prance absurdly in the daylight fail to be awed and humbled by the magnificence of the stars – if it were not for the light pollution of our cities?”

Even seen with the eye alone, the outback sky forcefully impresses on us the presence of the stars, in a way that city-dwellers never experience. But Malin’s photography goes beyond this, capturing glories that the unaided eye cannot. The colours of the stars and the nebulae that surround them, so meaningful to astronomers, can be recorded only with photography or electronic [CCD] detectors. Much of Malin’s life’s work has been dedicated to capturing those colours accurately. His images, Edwards has written, “present us with an embryonic mythology awaiting interpretation”.

Malin and Watson found working on ‘Star Chant’ a rewarding experience. “I was humbled and awed,” says Watson, even while joking that he had the easiest task of all. Says Malin: “It’s really about sharing the beauty of the night sky that only photography can capture.”

‘Star Chant’ was commissioned jointly by Symphony Australia and the Adelaide Festival. It premiered at the Adelaide Festival in 2002.


‘Star Chant’ is part of ‘Ephemera’, a program presented by the Sydney Festival in association with Sydney Opera House Trust
Venue: Sydney Opera House Concert Hall
Time and dates: Thursday 22 and Friday 23 January at 8 pm

Conductor: Antonino Fogliani
Performers: vocal ensembles Gondwana Voices, Sydney Children’s Choir and Cantillation, and the Sydney Symphony


Fred Watson, Anglo-Australian Observatory (Coonabarabran)
Contact via Helen Sim
Mob: 0419 635 905
Office tel: 02 9372 4251
Email: hsim@aao.gov.au

David Malin
02- 9997-1914 (home), 0414-913-231 (mob.)

Ross Edwards
02-9518-4843 (home)


Helen Sim - Public Relations and Media Liaison
Anglo-Australian Observatory
PO Box 296
tel: +61 2 9372 4251 (bh), 0419-635-905 (mob)
fax: +61 2 9372 4444