Peabody Johns Hopkins University Magazine

A Cosmic Collection 

A Cosmic Collection 

Headshot of Faye Chiao

As a high school student in Northern Virginia, Faye Chiao (MM ’07, Composition) developed an abiding fascination with astrophysics, which eventually translated into a bachelor’s degree in physics from Georgetown University and, more recently, into her 45-minute multimedia dramatic song cycle To See the Stars.

Scheduled to premiere at the Mary- land Science Center’s Davis Planetarium in March, To See the Stars commemorates the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, which during its lifetime has exponentially expanded human-kind’s understanding of the cosmos.

“Essentially, it’s a collection of songs linked through narration, musical interludes, and video,” explains Chiao, a member of Peabody’s music theory faculty now working on her DMA in composition. “I’m really interested in the intersection of opera and chamber music.”

Chiao traces the genesis of To See the Stars to a conversation she had with Gerald Klickstein, director of Peabody’s Music Entrepreneurship and Career Center, who suggested a project to celebrate Hubble’s quarter-century anniversary. It came more into focus when she submitted a proposal to the Houston Grand Opera during its open call for works pertaining to Houston; Chiao immediately thought of the city’s Johnson Space Center. Although she failed to win that particular competition, she nonetheless dived into what ultimately became To See the Stars: “I just fell in love with this Hubble project and wanted to find a way to make it come to fruition.”

That “way,” it turned out, came via the 2013–2014 Presser Music Award. Chiao received $10,000 as co-winner of the prize, which she applied for in collaboration with Lunar Ensemble, a Baltimore-based new-music vocal and instrumental group. Chiao and the ensemble began work on To See the Stars this past May, with Dara Weinberg, a 2011 Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars MFA graduate, providing the libretto.

According to Chiao, the piece examines “the grand curiosity and the grand aspirations of the human search for knowledge. You’ll hear songs about aspiration, discovery, and the conflict of ideas” as seen through the lens of the development, deployment, and extraordinary success of the Hubble. In her research for the project, Chiao interviewed astronomers and astrophysicists at the Homewood campus–based Space Telescope Science Institute, notably Ken Sembach, mission head for the Hubble.

“I don’t want it to be something where I could have just used a planetarium video, recorded the music, and pressed play,” Chiao emphasizes. “So there will be a dynamic live component—sometimes performance will be at the forefront, sometimes video. Hopefully, if I do my job correctly, all of these things will be effectively integrated.”

— Michael Yockel