This summer will see the world premiere of composer Michael Gordon’s Natural History, inspired by Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. The new work, commissioned by the Britt Music & Arts Festival, will be performed by the Britt Orchestra July 29 and 30 in the park itself, as part of the 100th anniversary of America’s National Park Service. This spring alone, Gordon has had three world premieres: The Unchanging Sea, a piano concerto for Tomoko Mukayaima and the Seattle Symphony, with video by Bill Morrison; Material, for four-person percussion and piano ensemble Yarn/Wire, playing one piano, and Observations on Air, a bassoon concerto for Peter Whelan and the Orchestra for the Age of Enlightenment.
Natural History will premiere the morning of July 29, 2016, on the rim of the lake at a location that Gordon scouted. 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 outdoor performances are free; the July 29 morning performance is open by invitation or to those biking or walking to the site only. Natural History will be performed by forty members of the Britt Orchestra, a chorus of fifty regional choristers, fifteen members of Steiger Butte Drum, whose members are all from the local Klamath Tribes, and thirty brass and percussionists from Southern Oregon University, and will be conducted by Britt Orchestra Music Director Teddy Abrams. For the premiere, the brass and percussionists will be arranged on a dramatic rise overlooking the orchestra.
Michael 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 has also been in touch with local writer Lee Juillerat who, along with Mark, has provided him with 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 spent an afternoon working with Steiger Butte Drum, an extended family from the Klamath Tribes that sings and collectively plays a large drum, which they encircle. The drum group members are the soloists of the piece, which, in Gordon's words, 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.”
The project is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts “Imagine Your Parks” initiative to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service. The National Park Service was founded in August 1916 to protect America’s most iconic lands and wildlife. “For this collaboration, we want to create a work of musical art that truly binds the natural environment and topography of Crater Lake with a musical landscape and experience,” said conductor Teddy Abrams. “It’s important to us that this work feel deeply connected to the environment, instead of simply presenting music in a beautiful place.” Gordon's work will also be performed by the Britt Orchestra at its home at the Britt Pavilion in Jacksonville, Oregon, on Saturday, August 20, to close the 2016 Britt Orchestra season.