Arts & Culture

NASA Inspires A World Premiere Symphony

The Houston Symphony’s Composer-in-Residence has written a kind of musical love letter to the city’s space program.

Composer Jimmy López Bellido visited NASA’s Johnson Space Center for inspiration for his World Premiere “Symphony No. 2, Ad Astra.”


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Composer Jimmy López Bellido is culminating his three-year residency with the Houston Symphony with a newly-commissioned work called Symphony No. 2, "Ad Astra."

Inspired by Voyager's Golden Record, which carried the Morse code for "per aspera ad astra" (from adversity to the stars), López uses the "ad astra" rhythm as a building block for his entire piece.

"That is actually what starts and triggers the whole symphony. We hear the vibraphone playing ‘ad astra' in Morse code, and the rest of the symphony follows," said López. "There is a lot of room for us to create within a symphonic form because it usually is born of a single cell, and a whole universe can just sprout out of it."

López expands, reduces, accelerates and modifies the Morse code rhythm in various ways throughout the symphony. He also uses unusual instruments – such as a glass harmonica, a wind machine and sirens – to create a soundscape of outer space.

"There was something about [the sound of the glass harmonica] that evoked, to me at least, the barren landscape of the moon, that eerie kind of foreign world but at the same familiar," said López.

The piece is fueled by the composer's life-long fascination with space exploration and the connection he has made with the people of Houston and the Houston Symphony through his residency.

Movements of the symphony are inspired by NASA missions and programs, including Voyager, Apollo, Hubble and Challenger. The final movement Revelation imagines an answer to the question, Are we alone in the universe?

The Houston Symphony premieres Jimmy López Bellido's Symphony No. 2, "Ad Astra," dedicated to NASA, on December 5, 7 and 8 at Jones Hall.

Listen to the complete interview with composer Jimmy López Bellido on the podcast Unwrap Your Candies Now.

Catherine Lu

Catherine Lu

Senior Content Producer & Announcer

While growing up in Chicago and Houston, Catherine’s love for art, music and creative writing was influenced by her teachers and parents. She was once concertmaster of the Clear Lake High School Orchestra and a four-time violinist of the Texas All-State Symphony. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Catherine...

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