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The Tale of a Dolphin

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The Collegium Musicum in St. James's Church The Collegium Musicum in St. James's Church

Arion and the Dolphin premiered in March 2016, and I had the pleasure of hearing its third performance by the Collegium Musicum of London in June. The performance was held in the famous St. James's Church near Piccadilly Circus.

The composer Jonathan Dove describes the story behind the composition of his dramatic cantata. "Arion is a young poet from Corinth who wins first prize in a singing contest in Sicily. During his voyage home, the sailors plot to kill him and keep his prize-money. Arion begs to sing one last song, and they allow him. His song draws dolphins to the ship. As soon as he finishes his song, he jumps overboard and is rescued by one of the dolphins who carries him to safety. The dolphin ends among the stars, as the constellation Delphinus. The story is told as a sequence of songs, with a soloist as Arion, tenors and basses as the sailors, and children’s voices representing the dolphin."

David Allsopp performs the role of ArionDavid Allsopp performs the role of ArionThe title role of Arion is performed by David Allsopp, a counter-tenor of astonishing presence. His crystal-sharp voice was trance-enducing, and he perfectly captured the purity of the young Arion as he sings the song that attracts dolphins. "In song bid now my song goodbye Music and Life...There is no music there, There in the depths of the sea," laments Arion. Very moving.

Allsopp was able to induce in the audience an emotional state that was very imaginative. It caused a stillness. One audience member told me it "felt quite archetypal. My mind was not judging, it was just absorbed in the listening."

There was much to admire here aside from the vocal tour de force of Allsopp. The haunting ethereal voices from the girls' choir of St. Catherine's College, Cambridge was the perfect backdrop for the lament of Arion. The dramatic key changes in Dove's composition were ably handled by the Collegium Musicum under the direction of Greg Morris, and I was particularly struck by the shimmering effect delivered by the Percussion Ensemble of London after thanks had been offered by the dolphin.

"A Dolphin sports through the Ocean of Night,

Tumbles and plays with the shoals of stars.

Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Mars;

Each leaping planet sings, hurtling higher,

To the glittering strings of a heavenly lyre."

A truly stunning evening of music, and of one the finest compositions of the 21st century.


For more on the Collegium and future concerts, visit their website:

Photos with this article by C. Cunningham


Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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