The Santa Cruz Symphony presents the Frans Lanting/Philip Glass collaboration “Life: A Journey Through Time” at the same venue where it debuted in 2006.
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It’s a pretty bold move to call your show “Life,” a term that, depending on the context, could mean majestic, elemental, animated, ancient or interminable (you know, like a life sentence).
It’s a big word, but Frans Lanting is certain his show lives up to it, except the interminable part.
“Life: A Journey Through Time” is a long-term multimedia project that first came to, um, life back in Santa Cruz back in 2006, as a commission for the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. It returns for a second pass June 18 as the closing concert of the season of the Santa Cruz Symphony at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.
The Dutch-born Lanting is one of the world’s most celebrated wildlife photographers. He and his wife and collaborator, writer Christine Eckstrom, are decades-long residents of Bonny Doon. “Life” is Lanting’s collaboration with the great composer Philip Glass, a Glass score accompanying hundreds of images that Lanting has shot from all corners of the world.
Since its debut in Santa Cruz 16 years ago, “Life” has circled the world. It’s been performed about two dozen times with orchestras in Rome, London, Geneva, Washington and many other venues. The Glass score has remained a constant, but Lanting’s presentation of photographs has, like life itself, evolved to reflect new realities.
“Think of where our minds were collectively in 2006 compared to where they are now when we think about our living planet,” said Lanting. “The issues of climate change and biodiversity have become much more urgent than they were even in 2006. And one of the things I’m doing now is to mix in new images with that realization in mind.”
Lanting said the show has never been primarily a warning of where life on the planet is headed.
“This is not a doom-and-gloom story. Ultimately, it’s still a story that aims to express awe and wonder about the miraculous sequence of events [that resulted in life] from the Big Bang to the present. And we’re all part of that.”
Lanting is best known for his work with National Geographic, where he has shot remarkably intimate photos of wildlife and often painterly images of wild environments from every continent on the planet. His ever-evolving work in “Life,” he said, also reflects advances in his field. “Digital photography has improved by leaps and bounds since the  premiere, as has projection technology. And we’ve learned a lot in the last 15 years about capturing images, processing images, and projecting images. So the visual experience is going to be superior compared to the world premiere,” he said. “Back then, it was a leap into the unknown.”
Though Lanting has traveled to every corner of the world, the new show, he said, reflects a renewed interest and appreciation for the local environment. Monterey Bay, Lanting asserts, deserves respect as one of the most diverse and fascinating bioregions on the planet.
“I’m really excited about mixing in some new images of the Monterey Bay. And I hope people who live here will recognize those.”
Lanting, who estimates the presentation includes about 600 images, said that “Life” is more than a chance to see stunning photographs in a giant format with live music. His aim was to reach beyond the human-created world to find something more eternal: “I went on a journey around the planet as if I were a time traveler with a camera. I really wanted to experience for myself whether I could find places and phenomena where you could find echoes from past eras in the evolution of life on our planet, and if I could find those spots to actually make a photograph that made me say, yes, this is a visualization of the way things used to be 10 million years ago, or 100 million years ago, even a billion years ago. This is visual evidence that anyone can experience. And this is the driving force behind the ‘Life’ project, to make the evolution of life on planet Earth an inclusive experience, and not just the domain of the scientist.”
The presentation also includes a narration of a poem, written by Lanting and Eckstrom. Preceding the show will be a panel discussion with UC Santa Cruz scientists from a variety of disciplines, including astrobiologist Natalie Batalha, paleoecologist Paul Koch, genomics scientist David Haussler and geologist Gary Griggs. Lanting will also be part of the panel to talk about the “Life” project.
“The big stories are worth sharing and sharing again,” said Lanting. “The story of life has been told around campfires for a long, long time. And then people have added more layers to it, and in the last generation, we’ve come up with extraordinary new insights fed by scientific innovation. And that continues to propel the story of life forward.”
Frans Lanting’s “Life: A Journey Through Time,” with the Santa Cruz Symphony takes place June 18 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.