In January, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons give the world premiere of Steven Mackey’s Concerto for Curved Space, a work that draws on the composer’s interest in physics and contemplates our perceived reality of the universe.
A physics major in college, Mackey has frequently written works that reflect his awe and wonder of the universe, such as String Theory (1998) for string quartet and his first orchestral piece The Big Bang and Beyond. The title of new piece, Concerto for Curved Space, references a book Mackey read 30 years ago called Sphereland: A Fantasy About Curved Spaces and an Expanding Universe. A central theme of the book is the inability to accept a possible reality that lies beyond one’s perception, as various beings who exist in different two- and three- and four-dimensional planes refuse to acknowledge or comprehend each other’s realities.
Inspired by the idea of simultaneous, multidimensional realities in the universe, Mackey created what he calls a “trippy” fantasy-like concerto for orchestra, full of musical portals that transform musical material, as well as multi-layered themes that crossfade, overlap, and engage in counterpoint. The piece is 30 minutes long and written in four movements.
Mackey describes the larger concepts behind the work:
“Concerto for Curved Space is a fantasy that revels in the space for imagination that lies between our curiosity and perceptual limitations. It’s a psychedelic and kaleidoscopic journey—a ‘trip’ that attempts to fuse the childhood wonder of lying on my back staring up at the stars, majoring in physics in college, and a lifetime of developing my craft as an orchestra composer. Curved Space is merely a prompt to explore non-straight continuities and otherworldly textures.”
One musical idea—first introduced at the beginning of the piece—appears throughout the score and acts as a “musical portal”: It can have a transformative effect on the surrounding musical material, or transport the music to a different space, or perhaps simply appear and disappear, leaving the music it encounters untouched. Mackey describes this music as the “most literally ‘curved’ because of the microtonal inflections in and out of a symmetrical harmony. In my mind it is a portal to other (musical) dimensions … or maybe it is the hum of the universe.”
January 26 at 7:30pm ET
January 28 at 8pm ET
Symphony Hall | Boston, MA
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Baiba Skride, violin
STEVEN MACKEY Concerto for Curved Space (World Premiere)
DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concerto No. 2
JOHANNES BRAHMS Symphony No. 4
Photo Credit: Kah Poon