the space of a door (2016)

for Orchestra

Two versions: 
Version A: 2*222*/4321/timp/3perc/hp/strings
Version B: 2*222*/4221/timp/3perc/hp/strings

Commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons, Music Director

Full Recording:

On YouTube:

On Spotify:

From “Boston Symphony Commissions” (Naxos American Classics, 2019)
Boston Symphony Orchestra | Andris Nelsons, conductor

Duration: 11 minutes

Recording Excerpts:

Performed live by Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra
Symphony Hall, Boston (MA), November 12, 2016
Posted with permission from the Boston Symphony Orchestra

View Online Score

Version A

Version B



"Rich with asynchronous strings, and full of light and shade, it hurtles toward a nostalgic end. Engaging, from a voice we will hear more of."

– David Allen, The New York Times, 11.20.2016
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"The short piece shimmered in sweeping gestures. [...] and a sense of awe twinkled throughout. It struck a balance between more introspective thinner textures and delightful sensory overload."

– Zoë Madonna, The Boston Globe, 11.9.2016
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" outstanding new work by Eric Nathan."

– Ken Ross, The Republican (Mass Live), 11.18.2016
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"All I know is Saturday's concert ranks up there as one of the most memorable and pleasurable performances I have ever attended. [...] Equally impressive, Nathan's new work, "The Space of A Door," more than held its own and stood out as one of the best new classical compositions I have heard in years. 

New classical compositions can sometimes be hit or miss. Some new music can be too experimental. Other times, some composers don't take enough risks. Nathan's composition strikes just the right balance. Commissioned by the BSO and performed at the start of the program, this beautiful orchestral work seamlessly covered a wide range in a brief period of time. The string section in particular vividly brought Nathan's sustained notes and subtle rhythms to life. Even the silences in Nathan's piece helped build towards a dramatic finish, which Nelsons made even more compelling by holding his hands in the air and letting the silence of the piece slowly settle in. [...] All I can say is it's night like these that make me feel fortunate to be alive."

– Ken Ross, The Republican (Mass Live), 11.13.2016
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"Tuesday night at Symphony Hall, Nelsons led off this mini-festival with a blazing premiere of Eric Nathan’s the shape of a door. [...] Nathan’s music is clean and shot through with rhythmic vitality that recalls the music of his mentor, the late Steven Stucky.  Like that buzzing chamber score, the shape of a door conjures images of a physical space–in this instance a large cathedral as experienced when entering through the large entryway. The piece, which runs to eleven minutes in length, is filled with resonant harmonies that are left to hang in space.

As with Stucky’s style, its formal design and dramatic shape is seamless. An opening twinkle in the strings explodes into a wall of sound rife with brassy fanfares and bright orchestral colors. Wind riffs dominate the inner sections, but they are fractured, and, at times, dissolve to little more than single notes sounding in quick crescendos. A driving section follows where lightening passages shoot about the score. The piece closes on a single sustained pitch left to float in the air like a cloud. Nelsons led a reading of bold commitment, and the audience showered Nathan with warm applause when he took the stage for bows."

– Aaron Keebaugh, Boston Classical Review, 11.9.2016
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"Two aspects defined Nathan’s “the space of the door”: the use of asynchronous strings, adding a wild luster to the normally unified front-of-orchestra sound; and the grab and release of tension. The tumultuous strings, and a wild middle section, caused chaos; many moments were placid and still, very fragile. [...] it was a terrific concert opener: startling, idiosyncratic, and alluring."

– Keith Powers, Currents – Lenore Overture, 11.19.2016
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"The music is largely active and strong, and when not, atmospheric with occasional punctuations from brass and percussion. Nathan employed a single brushed cymbal muted by a cushion on which it rested as a kind of connecting element between episodes. The effect was almost as of a breath being taken or expelled—very intriguing, very well orchestrated. Its ultimate impression was of a stasis often populated by active tremolandi in the strings, playing in asynchronous fashion in overlapping layers and independent of one another. Under Nelsons, this spoke clearly and eloquently—a composer’s best hope for a first performance fulfilled."

– John Ehrlich, The Boston Music Intelligencer, 11.10.2016
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"The play of light continues with asynchronous strings overlapping and lending a shimmering sheen as the music blossoms into a brief, serene interlude. A sharp, frenzied passage interrupts only to yield to a rapid recapitulation of motifs from the opening. Nathan ends on a sustained note gradually dwindling like a spiral of white smoke from an extinguished candle. Nelsons and the orchestra dug into the piece with audacity and clarity giving Nathan's piece an ideal first hearing."

– Kevin Wells, Bachtrack, 11.14.2016
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“Another lucky moment for us is that Maestro Masur brought with him a piece that was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra entitled the space of a door by Eric Nathan. During his podium introduction the Maestro shared with us that when Mr. Nathan visited the Providence Athenaeum for the first time, he was entranced by the thousands and thousands of books that inhabited the centuries-old building. Contained within those books were stories that longed to be told, to see the light of day, to be explored…to be lived. He used those possible stories as a framework, but it was through his own personal experiences that he was able to build upon the frame.

What a fascinating piece it is. It begins not with a whimper but a full-blown, in your face, every instrument on double forte force that does not let go for a few lines. The bombastic quality from the other instruments begins to wane a little, save for the brass, which gives us a gush of falling scale that is oh so satisfying and neat. Soon a sense of calm takes over and the building of themes become present. Is this a scene of star-crossed lovers in a verdant field? Or could it be a battle in outer space? It is within this piece that you could believe that there were a thousand different stories in each line.

While there were many lovely earworm moments, such as the brass scale, there was a time that within the woods and strings that a seamless and aurally pleasing transition from Major to minor happens that was a treat for my ears.

I believe that Mr. Nathan has a great sense of what modern audiences would like to hear in new compositions: a nod to the Classics with an eye to the present and future.

Thank you, Maestro Masur, for your introduction to a tantalizing piece and bringing your talents to our Louisville Orchestra podium. I hope that this will not be your only visit to our lovely and talented Possibility City.”

– Annette Skaggs,, 11.20.2018
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Program Note

Premiere with Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Nov. 2016). Photo by Luyuan Nathan

I am often inspired by engaging with old places such as historic churches, cathedrals or concert halls. Despite the silence of their atmosphere, these places can feel full of a collective energy of those who were there before me. The initial creative spark for “the space of a door” came from my first visit to the Providence Athenaeum in December 2015. Upon entering this temple of books, built in 1836, one is welcomed by a grand sight of thousands of books brightly illuminated. I imagined the energy latent in all of the countless stories, the voices of authors and their characters who live in these books, each work a portal to another world. This was my starting point, providing a kind of scaffolding for the piece, which then expanded in other directions as I filtered my musical ideas through the emotions experienced during the months working on it, including a sense of a personal loss from the sudden death one of my closest mentors, composer Steven Stucky, and the daily hurt I have felt from news of the tragic series of world events.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra invited me to compose this work as part of a festival celebrating Johannes Brahms, whose music has been important to me as a composer and performer. My piece pays homage to Brahms by taking inspiration from his Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2, particularly the rising minor third in the horns that opens Symphony No. 2. I begin my piece with the horns playing this interval together in harmony. The interval plays a key role throughout my work, both harmonically and structurally, returning at the end as a descending melodic third in a vastly different emotional context. Emotionally, the piece takes a journey through a series of interconnected worlds punctuated by sections featuring massive, asynchronous textures in the strings, where each player is asked to play individually within the collective, as if a soloist. These sections are set against moments of stillness and fragility. A fast, wildly agitated section lies at the middle of the work.

“the space of a door” was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and is dedicated to Music Director Andris Nelsons, Anthony Fogg and the members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra with my deepest admiration and gratitude. The title quotes from a line of Samuel Beckett’s poem, “my way is in the sand flowing.”

– Eric Nathan (August, 2016)

Robert Kirzinger's program note from the BSO Program Book (excerpted below):
Click here to read

Nathan’s orchestral work the space of a door is one of many pieces inspired by place, in this case the Providence Athenaeum, near Brown University (see photo, page 33), which he visited during his first year on the Brown faculty and which has become one of his favorite buildings in the city. In his own comments on the space of a door the composer describes being struck by the “energy latent in all the countless stories” within its volumes, an energy that seemed to be made manifest by the quality of light within the high-ceilinged building as one enters the front doors. 

As usual with Nathan’s music, though, the initial trigger of place is just one dimension of the expressive content of his new piece. He started the space of a door in January 2016, and the following month was shocked by the death of one of his most significant mentors, Steven Stucky. The dedication mentioned above, “To S.E.S., in memoriam,” refers to Stucky. Nathan had already composed a tribute to his teacher in his 2014 solo piano work Hommage à Steven Stucky (...with friends nearby...) and has spoken of that composer’s tendency to weave quotes and references to his admired predecessors (e.g., Stravinsky, Lutosławski) into his pieces, often very subtly and privately. In that spirit, to go along with the more obvious and “public” references to Brahms that were already suggested as part of the BSO commission, Nathan has interspersed allusions to his own personal canon of musical influences. I will mention only one of these: the great C major chord that appears just after the start of the piece is taken from Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, where the flinging open of the fifth door to reveal the vista of Bluebeard’s kingdom parallels Nathan’s experience of seeing the brightly lit interior of the Athenaeum for the first time. (The BSO having just performed Bluebeard’s Castle two weeks ago, that bright chord might still be ringing in Symphony Hall.) 

Besides Stucky’s death, a number of tragic events that occurred in the world during the period of the space of a door’s composition led Nathan to enrich what had begun as an ostensibly optimistic work with more somber, contemplative colors. He realized while writing the piece that he wanted to evoke complex emotions that could simultaneously express grief and wonder, tragedy and beauty, reflecting his sense that normal, everyday human emotional experience is a fluid and highly nuanced spectrum. In this he aimed at a further, less concrete connection to Brahms’s symphonies and piano concertos: while any given piece might leave with us an overall affect of tragedy or joy, within each piece is a continuum of expression from dark to light.  

the space of a door begins with a harmonic motif from the F-sharp–A rising melodic motif at the start of Brahms’s Symphony No. 2, followed by the aforementioned brilliant C major chord borrowed from Bartók. This is the start of a harmonic wash made up of asynchronous strings (playing short figures without coordinating with one another) and flashing gestures in the winds, maintaining a sense of awe and sparkling light. The feeling of meter and forward motion is established in the following section, a network of tightly intertwined melodic lines marked “Broadly – coming to life, with a sense of wonder.” The texture here is a rich canon, voices in imitation, which gradually disperses. Opposition between bright winds and sustained strings creates tension, with percussion providing both color and, occasionally, added impetus. The feeling of tense stillness is suddenly interrupted by a passage of frantic, aggressive activity in the middle of the piece. This transforms seamlessly into a long-breathed melodic passage for violins and flutes over sixteenth-note and triplet accompaniment (the three-against-two texture is a common Brahms detail). Ideas from earlier in the work, such as static harmonies and the glimmering textures of asynchronous strings, are revisited in a series of rapid changes, recapitulation-like, in an extended buildup of energy toward the end of the piece, but the dominant characteristics of the closing minutes portray a shimmering, sparkling scrim of colorfully fragile light. 

– Robert Kirzinger, Assistant Director of Program Publications of the Boston Symphony Orchestra

BSO Podcast Interview with Brian Bell and Eric Nathan
Click here to listen