Symphony Northwest draws its extra-musical inspiration from unique and colorful geography and ecology of the composer’s home state of Washington and the surrounding area, a region known collectively as the Pacific Northwest. The symphony’s movements each depict a particular ecological feature of the Pacific Northwest, namely mountains, forests, rivers, and the ocean. Each movement may be played as an independent piece.
Movement I – Mountain
There are several major mountain ranges that lie within the Pacific Northwest, including the Cascade, Rocky and Olympic mountain ranges. Famous peaks in the area include Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Rainier. The mountains of this area have provided inspiration for several other composers, notably Alan Hovhaness (Symphony No. 2: Mysterious Mountain, Symphony No. 50: Mount St. Helens, Symphony No. 66: Hymn to Glacier Peak) and Gregory Short (Mount Takhoma). This movement represents awe at the sheer size and majesty of mountains.
Movement II – Forest
The Pacific Northwest is one of only a few places on earth to contain a temperate rain forest. The slow second movement, Forest, draws its inspiration from these dense forests of massive, old-growth evergreen trees, covered by hanging mosses and surrounded by ferns. These forests are quiet, cool, lush, and intensely green places. Even the light itself seems green. The stillness one experiences when deep within one of these ancient forests where many of the trees are well over 500 years old, gives the illusion that time itself is at a standstill. This movement tries to capture the somber stillness inherent to these forests, as well as exploring the shimmering effect of light filtering through layer upon layer of foliage.
Movement III – River
Rivers are a vital part of Pacific Northwest’s ecosystem. The Columbia River, one of the largest in North America, cuts across this region, from Alberta to Oregon. The third movement of the symphony follows the twist and turns of a river as rushes along its course, crashing into the banks and merging with other streams.
Movement IV – Ocean
Ocean, the final movement, is a broadly majestic portrait of the Pacific Ocean, the western border of the Pacific Northwest. The inhabitants of this part of the continent have always been connected to the ocean, and the composer felt that it would be appropriate to end the symphony with a majestic calm, a musical depiction of the sun setting into the sea.