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The Eugene Symphony will perform the world premier of a new, contemporary symphony. Here's how it came to be.

Eugene Symphony
Michael Djupstrom, 43, a composer and pianist from Philadelphia, debuts his first-ever symphony, "Dreams of Flight," Feb. 1 at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts, performed by the Eugene Symphony.

Thursday evening, the Eugene Symphony will debut a new piece of music from composer Michael Djupstrom. Writing an original symphony is a major milestone in a composer’s career, and giving it to the world is also an important cultural moment. The performance is a culmination of four year’s work.

Michael Djupstrom first wrote the piece while seated at the piano, where, as a pianist, the keyboard allowed him to give shape to the work, transcribing it from his mind to the page.

The result is a symphony in three movements, inspired by the elements of nature.

“Dreams of Flight” is Djupstrom’s first symphony-length work.

While he’d written parts for all of the instruments within an orchestra, until this week – when the Eugene Symphony brought it to life in rehearsal – he’d never really “heard” it. Because for that to happen, he needed a full orchestra and its musicians.

When that finally happened this week, Djupstrom said he didn’t know how to react.

“I was really overwhelmed. I just sat there stunned for about ten seconds before I could even turn to the assistant conductor, who was sitting next to me, and ask certain questions because I really froze. It was really amazing,” Djupstrom said in an interview with KLCC this week.

Djupstrom trusted that the shared language of music - the craft of understanding which notes to play - would be enough for the musicians to tap into his creative vision, and give it life and energy. He said when he’s composing he can imagine the sounds, but really “hearing” them, is something different.

“It's more like we hear the memory of something in our head. It's just like when you see something in your mind's eye. It's in your mind's eye. But when you finally hear it, even if it's what you expected, it's still suddenly there, like in color. It's a really shocking experience,” Djupstrom said.

Francesco Lecce-Chong, conductor of the Eugene Symphony, commissioned the work from Djupstrom as part of the “First Symphony Project.” Lecce-Chong said Djupstrom’s work has stood out to him since their time as students together at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

“I wanted to think about ‘What is the symphony in the 21st century?’ because we have so few of them. And to be able to go to four incredible, composers and ask them, without parameters on the topic or what the piece could be, to write their first symphony,” Lecci-Chong said.

It’s rare for a contemporary composer to create a new, long-form work. For reference - the German composer Brahms finished his first symphony at the age of 43, the same age Djupstrom is now.

Djupstrom said writing a symphony is a huge milestone in a composer’s career.

“In my creative experience it's a kind of turning point. I've never or I had never tackled a piece this big. I had never worked so long on a single piece before because I'd never had to,” Djupstrom said.

Asked what influenced the piece, Djupstrom said he envisioned a journey of movement through the four elements.

“My father is an ecologist. So I spent a lot of time outside growing up. We went camping a lot,” he said. “On sort of conceptual level, it was a very natural world kind of piece.”

Lecce-Chong said new work is always exhilarating, and even more so when it’s performed live.

“Throughout history, the symphony has meant many different things that has become many different things. But what has stayed the same is it is almost always a very personal work to that composer. And also by being so personal, it becomes something universal,” said Lecce-Chong.

Dreams of Flight makes its debut on stage at the Hult Center Feb. 1.

In addition to the premier of Dreams of Flight, the concert also features Rossini’s Overture to William Tell and Dvorak’s Cello Concerto.

Jill Burke became KLCC's arts reporter in February, 2023.
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