Magical lights at the end of the world serve as inspiration for new orchestral work for Amarillo Symphony
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Composer Chris Rogerson traveled to the ends of the earth to find inspiration for a new work commissioned by the Amarillo Symphony.
Rogerson's Dološ Sielut (Ancient Souls) will get its world premiere during the Symphony's March concerts, alongside two staples of 20th-century orchestral music — Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major, featuring pianist Martina Filjak, and Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.
The concerts are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Buchanan St. Tickets are $16 to $52, plus fees.
"I would hope that there wouldn't be a riot at this performance," Rogerson said, referring to the (possibly apocryphal) legend about the initial reception to Stravinsky's work. "I will say, though, that (Dološ Sielut) is a big orchestral piece and the Ravel is one of my favorite pieces and obviously The Rite of Spring is a masterpiece, so this is going to be a really great concert."
Jacomo Bairos, the Symphony's music director and conductor, agreed.
"I just begun studying the work a week ago, and it is absolutely gorgeous," Bairos said in a March 14 email. "I know he was inspired by the Sami people, but more interestingly, he was inspired by the Article circle, the Northern Lights, and these people who have been sheep herders for centuries.
"I love the inspiration, and feel with his particular style of writing, the way he develops melodies, themes, and open harmonies, will be a perfect back drop for this gorgeous work. We are terribly thrilled to present this major commission in Amarillo," Bairos wrote.
Rogerson, the Symphony's composer-in-residence since 2014, traveled north of the Arctic Circle in Finland to seek out inspiration for this piece. Initially, he planned to write a symphonic work inspired by snow, but he found a more celestial inspiration calling out to him.
"When you're doing things like this, you kind of have to be open to whatever is moving you or is inspiring you, and this is what I was most struck by," Rogerson said.
"This" was the experience he had witnessing the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, with a group of Sami reindeer herders.
"It was actually -40 degrees where we were staying on a frozen lake in the middle of nowhere," Rogerson said. "We walked out in the middle of the night, with no natural light around, totally quiet, and the Northern Lights were totally unbelievable. ... All these different colors, the sky moving around like crazy.
"While we were on the lake, you could hear the ice cracking underneath you, hear in the distance the sounds of ... reindeer bells over the hills in the tundra."
Rogerson hopes to bring those sights and sounds alive in his piece, as well as to give the audience at least some idea what spending time with the Sami is like.
"If you're going to a place one time and these people live there, you want to (write) in a way that is authentic and not appropriating their culture," Rogerson said. "So essentially, from my point of view, it makes sense to focus on a singular moment that is in my experience and also give people a little slice of what it may be like there."
Rogerson spent two weeks in Finland looking for a spark of creativity for this piece.
"It was intense — -40 degrees, no running water, essentially an outhouse situation," he said. "I have a lot of respect for the Sami. They live their year-round, while I was there not very long. You quickly get a sense of how difficult it is."
While there, he learned that the Sami believe that the Northern Lights are the "souls of their loved ones reaching out to them," Rogerson said.
"When I watched them myself, you could really feel that," he continued. "This piece is essentially about the poignancy of witnessing this incredible beauty and thinking about this great loss that is really at the core."
Rogerson — who, before the age of 30, has studied at the Curtis Institute of Music, Yale School of Music and Princeton University — also has received commissions and performances from orchestras such as the San Francisco Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Houston Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, and New Jersey Symphony.
His work, at least of late, largely deals with "exploring cultures and landscapes that we don't often think about in the U.S., that many may not be aware of," he said.
"Some composers don't want anything of a programmatic nature, don't want to represent human emotion or landscapes, don't want to evoke things," he continued. "But I'm actually very interested in that. I start from a place of thinking about what it would sound like if it was really cold. That was my jumping-off point. ... But I focused not only on how cold it was but also the emotional aspect of it — the overwhelming quality of the Northern Lights, the incredible, bittersweet qualities."