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A journey to Jeffrey Nytch’s ‘Formations’ Symphony

From Colorado Public Radio, 1/18/15

For audio selections, visit the CPR blog

Most contemporary composers rarely hear their music performed live and often have no control over how it’s presented in concert. Composer & Curator asks an artist to design a dream program around a piece they’ve written and explain their selections.

Composer Jeffrey Nytch of Boulder built a program around his Symphony No. 1, titled “Formations.”

“I wanted to pick pieces that would combine to create a unified journey culminating in my symphony,” Nytch said. “The result is a collection of pieces related to the earth and our relationship to it, beginning with praise for the creation of which we are a part, the mystical beauty of nature, the sundering of the human spirit from that of the earth, and a short choral interlude that serves as a kind of moment of reflection on our state. And then we hear my symphony, ”

Gregorian chant: Psalm 24

Gregorian chant is one of my favorite mediums for reflection and contemplation. I picked this Psalm to open my dream concert mainly for its text evoking the earth and its creator (“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof / for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers”), and chose the Gregorian medium for its timeless feel and simplicity.

Alan Hovhaness, “And God Created Great Whales”

I first heard this piece as a teenager, and was captivated by how effectively the recorded whale sounds were interwoven with the music. Once again there is a timeless feel to this music, but now the grandeur and magic of the Earth is brought to the fore. I always feel like I’m on a journey into the waters of the sea with this piece, and since the land emerged from the sea it was a good place to continue our journey.

Joseph Schwantner, “…and the mountains rising nowhere”

Joseph Schwantner is a composer with whom I feel a great deal of affinity. His musical language is both powerful (sometimes even brutal) and at the same time capable of transcendental beauty and mystery. This piece, for wind ensemble, evokes images of the land rising out of the sea, and the immense power and struggle associated with the birthing of the first land.

Frank Ticheli, “Earth Song”

I did not know this piece until I began thinking about pieces for my dream program. I wanted a short piece that would give us a chance to rest and reflect before proceeding to my symphony. Thus far in our musical journey we have evoked the spirit, the animal kingdom, and the power of the earth itself; now it was time for reflection on these powers and their relationship to human existence — a central theme of my symphony. This short anthem is a call for healing from war, strife, and the scorching of the earth, a call I wanted to explicitly evoke at this point in the program.

Jeffrey Nytch, Symphony No. 1, “Formations”

“Formations” was commissioned by the Boulder Philharmonic and the Geological Society of America and premiered by the Boulder Phil in 2013. As someone with college degrees in both music and geology, I have always maintained a fascination with the intersection of music and science; “Formations” was an opportunity to bring those two loves together in a piece that was inspired by the geology of the Rocky Mountains and explores the relationship between humans and the geology around us.

My symphony depicts the struggles of the Earth to evolve to its present form — and the struggle of humanity to reconcile its place within that form. The end of the symphony paints an optimistic view of a future in which these tensions are resolved.

This recording features the Boulder Philharmonic and its music director, Michael Butterman.

For audio selections, visit the CPR blog

Audio: Jeffrey Nytch, Symphony No. 1, “Formations,” Movement 1
Audio: Jeffrey Nytch, Symphony No. 1, “Formations,” Movement 2
Audio: Jeffrey Nytch, Symphony No. 1, “Formations,” Movement 3
Audio: Jeffrey Nytch, Symphony No. 1, “Formations,” Movement 4

Jeffrey Nytch’s work has been performed by the Boulder Philharmonic, the Denver Philharmonic and the Midland-Odessa Symphony in Midland, Texas. He’s working on a recording of his song cycle “Covenant” for New Dynamic Records and writing a book on entrepreneurship in the arts.

Nytch is director of the Entrepreneurship Center for Music at the University of Colorado.

 

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