On May 6, 2022, NCCR MSE together with an audience of 100 guests witnessed an extraordinary world première of an opera written by Chemistry Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann (libretto) and Austrian composer Oliver Peter Graber. The production was staged in Gare du Nord theatre in Basel, followed by a talk with the international ensemble which included mezzo-soprano Stephanie McGuire from USA/Germany, the enthusiastic young acting company “Prinz Ip” from Basel and the composer himself (piano and electronics).
Alchemy was part of a wider event, the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Lectureship. In memory of the Dreyfus brothers, the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation Inc. has established the Dreyfus Lectureship at the University of Basel. The annual Lectureship brings a leading chemist from the United States to the Basel campus to deliver a series of talks and to meet with faculty and students.
Impressions from the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Lectureship 2022 are also available as an image gallery: https://adobe.ly/3ygMazl
In an interview with Ralf Stutzki, Head Ethics of NCCR MSE, Roald Hoffmann reveals some very personal episodes from his life which began in 1937 in his (then Polish) birthplace Złoczów and after World War II led to emigration to the United States.
Alchemy fascinates, be it in science or the arts, for at its core is essential change.
The text of the opera introduces the audience to the exciting world of an ambitious young woman chemist, her friend, a male futuristic painter, and an older colleague, a maker of molecules. All are intent on changing the world, while a supercomputer guards humanity, and is itself transformed in the process.
With contemporary audio-technology, chemical data can be transformed into sound and musical structure: The “orchestra of atoms” is made up of supporting strings and piano. These basic concepts have been developed by Oliver Peter Graber in collaboration with different researchers/research institutes.
In the case of Alchemy the knowledge and experiences of both artists are summed up to a new level of artistic and scientific interaction that bridges the gap between music, science, literature and philosophy.
Roald Hoffmann was born in 1937 in Złoczów, Poland. Having survived World War II, he came to the U. S. in 1949, and studied chemistry at Columbia and Harvard Universities (Ph.D. 1962). Since 1965 he is at Cornell University, now as the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters, Emeritus. He has received many of the honors of his profession, including the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (shared with Kenichi Fukui).
In more than 650 scientific articles and two books, he has taught the chemical community new and useful ways to look at the geometry and reactivity of molecules, from organic through inorganic to infinitely extended structures.
At Cornell, Hoffmann taught introductory chemistry half of his time. Notable also is his reaching out to the general public; he was the presenter, for example, of a television course in chemistry titled „The World of Chemistry,“ shown widely since 1990.
As a writer, Hoffmann has carved out a land between science, poetry, and philosophy, through many essays, five non-fiction books, three plays and five published collections of poetry, including bilingual Spanish-English and Russian-English editions published in Madrid and Moscow.
Oliver Peter Graber is internationally active as a composer, concert pianist and dramaturge. He has taught at the university level and was dramaturge of the Vienna State Ballet. In recent years, his compositional activities have focused overseas; pianistically, he has recently emerged as a performer of his own works for piano and orchestra, as well as chamber music with members of the Vienna Philharmonic.
Oliver Peter Graber is a co-founder of Ludwig Med (https://www.ludwig-med.com/), a start-up that develops composition and artificial intelligence for medical and therapeutic applications focusing on the use of functional music in intensive care units and in respiratory and neurological rehabilitation.
The mezzo-soprano Stephanie McGuire, who comes from the USA and lives in Berlin, among other places, has an extensive repertoire that represents the entire stylistic breadth of her vocal range. In recent years she has focused on the exciting juxtaposition of baroque and contemporary music, however, this does not stop her, for example, from collaborating with the Boston POPS under the direction of Keith Lockhart on arias from the most important works of the 19th and 20th centuries. Her collaborations with other conductors such as Gary Wedow, Mark Shapiro and Tim Nelson have taken her to prestigious venues such as the New York City Opera, Carnegie Hall, and Metropolitan Opera Guild.
A little bit of everything, something for everyone: Prinz Ip offers creative young adults the opportunity to express themselves artistically, be it in the field of music, movement, theater or other performance arts, as well as mixed forms of the same. With such interdisciplinary projects, Prinz Ip wants to make a cultural contribution to the city of Basel.