July 29-30, the Britt Music & Arts Festival, presents the world premiere of Michael Gordon’s newest work for orchestra, Natural History, inspired by Crater Lake National Park in Oregon and commissioned by the Britt Orchestra as part of the 100th anniversary of America’s National Park Service.
Natural History will premiere the morning of July 29, 2016, on the rim of the lake at a location that Gordon scouted, with musicians spatially situated around the site. The work will be performed twice more on July 29 and three times on July 30 in a different location in Crater Lake National Park.
The work will be performed by 40 members of the Britt Festival Orchestra (with conductor Teddy Abrams), plus a 70-voice choir, 30 brass and percussionists, and 15 members of the local Klamath Tribes who play and sing on the “Steiger Butte Drum”, a third-generation Northern-style powwow drum. Giiwas (Crater Lake), which means “A Spiritual Place”, is the ancestral homeland of the Klamath Tribal people.
Gordon visited the lake in the summer of 2015 and winter of 2016 and spent time with both Park Superintendent Craig Ackerman and Park Historian Stephen Mark. He also conversed with local writer Lee Juillerat who provided him with additional background on the history of the region and native lore and tradition. On his last trip to the park, Gordon spent a week in a ranger’s house in the dead of winter. During that period, he worked with the Klameth tribal drummers, who are the soloists of the piece.
For Gordon, this work is “designed to be an experiential spectacle. The idea is to draw out the natural sounds in and around Crater Lake and connect the natural sonic environment to the orchestra.”
In my time at Crater Lake last winter, the thing I was thinking about is the symphony that’s going on all year long: the sounds of the animals, the birds chirping, the wind blowing, even that sound of the expanse of the lake. I was imagining this chorus of the animals, the symphony that’s been going for centuries.
The circumstances of this piece are unique — to be able to write a piece of music that’s going to be played at Crater Lake and to work with such a variety of musical forces: Tribal musicians, a full symphony and chorus, brass orchestra and percussionists. It’s a pretty overwhelming feeling. It’s thrilling and humbling.