If you’ve ever been to Crater Lake in southern Oregon, you know all about its grandeur. The United States’ deepest lake, its brilliant, pure waters are often obscured by clouds. But when it peeks out from beneath the fog, the lake’s unforgettably blue waters are a reminder of nature’s most potent wonders.
Now those marvels have been captured in song by composer Michael Gordon, whose symphony “Natural History” was inspired by and performed next to Crater Lake.
It took Gordon a year to compose the work, which evokes the lake’s unique majesty and tumultuous story. Crater Lake was formed about 7,700 years ago when Mount Mazama, a volcano, collapsed into a massive circular crater. Then, rain and snowfall filled the bowl with water, creating a kind of scientific curiosity.
Because Crater Lake has no inlets or outlets, it’s nearly pristine. That makes it an incredible lab for scientists who use it to study its diverse plants, its unique geological features and the endangered species that make it their home.
Gordon drew on that natural heritage when writing a symphony designed to bring out the lake’s natural sounds. In 2016, his work was conducted by Teddy Abrams and performed on the lake’s edge by more than 130 classical musicians. Joining them were drummers from the Klamath people, who have long celebrated the lake as a spiritual place.
The work was commissioned by the Britt Music & Arts Festival to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service. “Symphony for Nature: The Britt Orchestra at Crater Lake,” a documentary that tracks Gordon’s composition and shows the concert, is airing on select PBS stations. It’s also available through PBS Passport, which provides on-demand access to public television programs. The film offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how history, science and culture come together in a musical piece that manages the seemingly impossible: giving voice to a body of water.