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Eric Nathan debuts ‘the space of a door’

Boston Symphony Orchestra commissions modern piece from university professor

When he walked through the doors of the Providence Athenaeum, Assistant Professor of Music Eric Nathan saw inspiration: The stacks of old, leather-bound books and the sunlight pouring in from above would serve as the “springboard for musical and textural ideas” culminating in his new composition, “the space of a door.”

“I was imagining the latent energy that inhabits these very old places,” Nathan said.

Nathan’s piece, commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was also influenced by the recent passing of his mentor, Steven Stuckey, along with other emotions brought on by this year’s “tragic world events.” Nathan said he is eager to hear his work played by the BSO, an orchestra to which he has listened since he was in fourth grade.

“All the music I’ve written is very experimental,” he said, noting the way his style takes advantage of the “visual texture of the bows all moving at different speeds.” This style gives players the freedom to express themselves, creating a different performance every time, he added.

Nathan also brings his experience as a composer to the classroom. “As a composition teacher I, … lend my experience and how I think about composing and how I problem solve,” he said. “A few of my students are actually coming to the Boston Symphony’s rehearsal … so they’ll get a hands-on experience seeing how an orchestra” works.

“After the rehearsal we’ll talk about how it went,” he said, adding that it can be educational for students to see how a composer’s work plays out in practice.

The orchestra will perform Nathan’s piece in a concert that also features the work of German composer Johannes Brahms. Nathan said the composer’s work bears similarities to his own, with both pieces travelling “through a bunch of interconnected emotional worlds.”

“His music spans the continuum between joy and tragedy … (creating) a very complex and nuanced world of emotion,” he said. “You can feel ecstasy but also a little sad at the same time.”

On a formal level, Brahms’ symphonies and Nathan’s work also both rely on economic usages of “simple building blocks,” Nathan said.


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