• Jeff Beal
  • The Great Circle (2018)

  • St. Rose Music Publishing (World)

Commissioned by the New West Symphony in Honor of their Twenty-Fifth Anniversary

  • 2.2(ca).2.2(cbn)/
  • 21 min 30 s

Programme Note

1. Earth
2. Air
3. Fire
4. Water
5. (re)Birth

Composer note
I was given this commission by the New West Symphony in honor of their 25th anniversary. At the time, we decided on a piece which would address the cataclysmic natural events which had just effected Ventura County — the Thomas Fire, which was quickly followed by the Montecito mudslides of 2017/18. This theme of natural forces, in all of their destructive power, set against the human cost of these recent events felt like a compelling starting point. By the time I was completing the work in November of 2018, California had also faced many more natural disasters, including the Santa Rosa (Tubbs) & Mendocino Complex fires, the Camp Fire in Paradise, and again our our own backyard; the Woolsey Fire — which destroyed many homes in Ventura County, Malibu, and my home town of Agoura Hills.

It was clear the scope of the piece needed to broaden to address the larger themes, which had luckily been part of my thinking from the start. On its own terms, nature simply does what nature does — we are partners in a fragile dance with its rhythms of destruction and regeneration. In the case of southern California fires, their seeds lie in several conditions: an arid, dry western landscape, more frequent and longer periods of drought, and fierce high desert winds — these fuel the fire's destructive path. The resultant scorched landscape, followed by heavy rains, provide the perfect conditions for an avalanche of mud, dirt and rock.

Earth, Air, Fire, Water. These very elements, which can wield such destructive power, also bring about re(Birth) and enable the beautiful flowering we enjoy on Earth. It's no mystery to me these elements often find themselves at the center of religious and mythic traditions — they can be transformative, vehicles of change — a primal connection to the life giving powers of nature itself.

I recall evacuating our home with my family just a few weeks ago from the Woolsey Fire. We grabbed a few key valuables, said a prayer and drove far from the fire's destructive path. Fire has a way of refocusing us on the most sacred, irreplaceable: life itself, our loved ones, children, and our shared sense of community. This beautiful poem by Wendell Berry (which also inspired the title) seems to celebrate this sentiment of the preciousness life, and our delicate mandala of being which encircles it.

— Jeff Beal