The world premiere of “Helix Spirals,” a composition for string quartet composed by Augusta Read Thomas, will be performed in the John Knowles Paine Concert Hall beginning at 8pm on Friday, April 10, 2015. Additional compositions by Erwin Schulhoff and Felix Mendelssohn will also be performed. Tickets are free and available at the Harvard Box Office in the Smith/Holyoke Center.
In 1958, Matthew Meselson, now the Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and his colleague Franklin Stahl demonstrated the semi-conservative replication of DNA in an experiment heralded as “the most beautiful experiment in biology.” That beauty inspired Augusta Read Thomas, widely considered one of today’s foremost composers, to compose “Helix Sprials,” which is dedicated to Meselson, Stahl and their most beautiful experiment.
The Grammy Award-winning Parker String Quartet—one of the preeminent ensembles of its generation and the Blodgett Artists-in-Residence in Harvard University’s Department of Music—will perform the piece, which portrays and interprets the famous experiment in three movements:I: LOCI: memory palace —In genetics, loci are specific locations of DNA sequences, genes, or positions on a chromosome. In this movement, the string quartet plays “many kinds of colorful sounds in a kaleidoscopic range of combinations and is, metaphorically speaking, portraying loci with capricious, playful, energized, vibrant, resonant, and lively musical unfoldings,” said Thomas.II: INTERLACING: twists and threads — Meselson and Stahl’s experiment showed that when double-stranded DNA is replicated, each of the two new double-stranded DNA helices consists of one strand from the original helix and one newly synthesized strand. In this movement, the quartet “draws a picture” of DNA semi-conservative replication, with members representing DNA strands through the replication process.III: SPIRAL: life force — When Thomas began composing Helix Spirals, she spoke with Meselson over the phone. He explained that DNA “holds past memories and present times, and it is a key to the future,” she said. The final movement represents this essential molecule’s continual renewal and transformation through life’s evolution.
Meselson received a doctorate in physical chemistry in 1957 from the California Institute of Technology. Soon after, he joined the faculty at Harvard where he teaches as well as conducts research on aging and on the role of sexual reproduction in evolution. He has received numerous awards and is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society, the Académie des Sciences, and the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Meselson-Stahl Experiment [HD Animation] on YouTube
Read review in The Boston Musical Intelligencer