Eric Nathan: The Space of a Door


Composed in 2016 from a commission from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Eric Nathan’s The Space of a Door is a thrilling orchestral work. The work is dedicated to Music Director Andris Nelsons, Anthony Fogg and the BSO members. Nathan writes about receiving the commission:


“The Boston Symphony Orchestra invited me to compose this work as part of a festival celebrating Johannes Brahms, whose music has been important to me as a composer and performer. My piece pays homage to Brahms by taking inspiration from his Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2, particularly the rising minor third in the horns that opens Symphony No.2.” 


The Music

As with many orchestral works, Nathan’s The Space of a Door is inspired by a building, in this case it is the Providence Athenaeum near Brown University, Rhode Island. 


“I am often inspired by engaging with old places such as historic churches, cathedrals or concert halls. Despite the silence of their atmosphere, these places can feel full of a collective energy of those who were there before me. The initial creative spark for the piece came from my first visit to the Providence Athenaeum in December 2015. Upon entering this temple of books, built in 1836, one is welcomed by a grand sight of thousands of books brightly illuminated. I imagined the energy latent in all of the countless stories, the voices of authors and their characters who live in these books, each work a portal to another world.

This was my starting point, providing a kind of scaffolding for the piece, which then expanded in other directions as I filtered my musical ideas through the emotions experienced during the months working on it, including a sense of a personal loss from the sudden death one of my closest mentors, composer Steven Stucky, and the daily hurt I have felt from news of the tragic series of world events.”


The piece opens with a horn motif based on the minor third interval. This is a core theme throughout the piece. As the brass bundle in for the huge orchestral sound at the start, Nathan’s bold orchestrations are plunged into the spotlight. Fluttering woodwinds decorate the bold brass as the voices start a bell feature. Nathan’s emphasis on the ever-changing textures and timbres creates a menagerie of sound worlds that sometimes interconnect, but are often heard on their own. 

Nathan writes separate string parts, as if each player is a soloist, so at points in The Space of a Door, the music is rife with rich texture and voices. These big and bombastic sections are directly opposed by sensitive sections that bring out Nathan’s sonorous orchestrations and harmonic language. The dramatic changes between these sections creates links between the melodic material which ties some of these sections together neatly. 

Themes from earlier in the work, such as the asynchronous strings and static harmonies, are revisited near the end of the piece. Unlike some of the more dramatic parts of the piece, the last few minutes of the piece focuses on the shimmering textures and Nathan’s harmonic language. Finishing with a sparkle of hope and light, The Space of a Door fades away quietly, leaving your ears full of wonder and emotion.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

Image Source – Move Mountains Photography


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