The moods of Crater Lake, from the explosive sounds of its creation to the gentle stillness of a winter morning, were evoked this morning in the world premiere of a musical composition called "Natural History."
The setting couldn’t have been more natural, the open spaces at The Watchman, which overlooks Crater Lake, the focus of the work by New York City composer Michael Gordon. The work was commissioned by Britt Music & Arts Festival, and Gordon spent time visiting Crater Lake National Park last summer and winter to develop an appreciation for the lake and its history.
Gordon thinks those feelings were well translated in today's 25-minute performance, which featured about 40 members of the Britt Orchestra, brass and percussion students from Southern Oregon University, a 50-member regional choir and 15 members of the Chiloquin-based Steiger Butte Drum troupe. The combined group was led by conductor Teddy Abrams.
“It’s been an amazing experience. When I started writing it after spending time here, I thought of all the amazing sounds,” Gordon said after the performance, noting his fascination with the sounds of snow, rain, wind, birds and wildlife. “There was such a symphony of sounds, all kinds of amazing sounds.
“Just to think of the violence that happened,” he said, referring to the cataclysmic explosion of Mount Mazama that created Crater Lake 7,700 years ago. “And the great beauty that came out of it.”
During his visits, Gordon spent time with Klamath Indians, including the Klamath Tribes' Steiger Butte Drum. “By including the drum group, it brought in a different attitude to the lake,” he said.
Don Gentry, the Klamath Tribes chairman, said he was moved and honored by the Tribes’ inclusion.
“I could almost envision the sounds of our ancestors,” Gentry said of “Natural History,” which featured drumming and singing. Gentry and Taylor Tupper also were involved in opening the program, which included a prayer and blessing.
“These are the original homes of our people,” Tupper said, referring to historic use of the area by Klamath and other tribes.
For Craig Ackerman, Crater Lake’s superintendent, the performance was appreciated at several levels. There were concerns that a forest fire that started Thursday near Lightning Springs, only a few miles from The Watchman, might cloak the area in smoke. Although the blaze had spread to 50 acres by this morning, smoke was not a concern. Ackerman said fire-control efforts were temporarily suspended to avoid conflicting with the concert.
“The piece really sounded like the park,” he said, noting the music conveyed a sense of snow, wind, water and native people. “For someone from New York City, he really captured the spirit of Crater Lake.”
Ackerman also had praise for park staff in handling the complex logistics of the world premiere and other performances. Following the morning program, two other concerts were held at Picnic Hill at Rim Village, along with small-group performances by ensembles at three locations. Three more free concerts are scheduled Saturday, at 11 a.m. and 2 and 5 p.m., all at Picnic Hill, along with more ensemble performances.
“The Park Service provided the backdrop and the logistics, but the Britt folks are really the ones to be credited,” Ackerman said. “We provided the palette, and Michael and Teddy provided the paint.”
Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at email@example.com.