07/11/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Science and the Arts to Meet Up Tonight in New York

The worlds of science and the arts -- which don't frequently intersect -- will meet tonight in New York, at the opening gala of the World Science Festival.

Now in its second year, the festival is five days of events designed, according to its founders, to celebrate "imagination, ingenuity and creativity" and bring "science out of the laboratory and into the streets, theaters, museums and public halls" of New York.

The gala tonight, at Alice Tully Hall, will feature a collaboration between the violinist Joshua Bell and Brian Greene, a festival founder, professor of mathematics and physics at Columbia University, and author of The Elegant Universe, a best-selling book on string theory. The collaboration, Greene said, "will describe in six minutes the history of our understanding of the universe, from the Big Bang to today. At key moments, I will stop, and Joshua will continue on the trajectory of the idea through music. It will be a dialogue, but not in a literal sense; I will use words and Joshua will use music, to talk about difficult ideas."

To illustrate the theories Greene will discuss, Bell will play Ysaye's Violin Sonata No. 2 in A minor.

Other participants in the gala -- which has been produced by Damian Woetzel, a retired principal dancer with the New York City Ballet who now speaks on arts policy and is the artistic director of the Vail International Dance Festival -- will include actors Christine Baranski and Danny Burstein, who will sing what Woetzel called "witty" songs about science by Cole Porter and Tom Lehrer. In addition, the performer Anna Deavere Smith will do a portrait of Edward O. Wilson, the evolutionary biologist and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner; the gala is honoring both his accomplishments and 80th birthday.

Other cast members will include Marin Alsop, the conductor; cellist Yo-Yo Ma; Marcus Printup, a trumpeter in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; the Inspirational Voices of the Abyssinian Baptist Church; and students of the National Dance Institute, who Woetzel said will do a dance inspired by Wilson's research on ants. Also attending will be gala co-chairs, the actors Alan Alda and Glenn Close.

Scientists, Woetzel said, "dream about what things are and can be. You have to have a tremendous creative spirit to imagine what could be before you can prove it. This is so closely linked to the creative spirit in the arts."

Among the festival's activities -- which will run through June 14 -- is a free science street fair for children in Washington Square Park on June 14.

Greene said he expected videos of the festival's events would be posted online within a month.