Prayers for a Feverish Planet

Until there is nothing left (2018) – Natalie Draper (United States)

“Until there is nothing left,” is a meditative reflection on our destructive environmental tendencies, particularly those relating to deforestation. From the vast devastation of the Amazon rainforest to the more insidious nature of local urban sprawl, we remove trees and root systems without considering loss of life, flooding potential, and habitat sustainability.

In the neighborhood where I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., developers regularly buy and doze older, smaller houses and build new, cheaply constructed, large cookie-cutter homes, which they sell at an enormous profit. When they doze the older home, they doze the entire lot, removing all trees and vegetation. What once were tree-lined streets now are denuded, and they bake in the exposed D.C. summer sun. Run-off from storms that once was managed by extensive root systems now has nowhere to go but into the streets (and sometimes into people’s basements). Seeing this locally made me think on a small-scale of how much development and capitalism drive our decisions rather than a mindset based on science, ecological preservation, and sustainability.

When I began working on this piece, I started to research the more well-known and catastrophic deforestation crisis: the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, particularly in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil. I contacted a college friend who works at NASA, Dr. Lauren Andrews, and asked her if I could look at the NASA satellite imagery of this region. She found stills dating from the 80’s leading up to today. It was utterly heartbreaking to see the verdant green transform over time to a lifeless brown in so much of this region. This satellite imagery is ultimately what inspired “Until there is nothing left,” which expresses my ruminations on the subject – the piece is both angry and urgent, but also with a visual image in my mind of something slowly fragmenting and dissipating over time.

My hope is that, as global, national, and local communities, we can rally and prevent more destruction…that we can prevent a situation in which there is nothing left.

Ann adds: I had the pleasure of learning this piece first for the New Music Festival at the University of South Florida in Tampa. It was originally scheduled during the April 2020 festival, but like all other live performing arts events in the spring of 2020, it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eunmi Ko did a fantastic job organizing the festival for several virtual concerts the following academic year, and I performed it in a streaming concert on November 7, 2020.

The work was written for pianist Lior Willinger as part of his commissioning project funded by the Presser Foundation. Many thanks to Lior for the commission, and for the opportunity to write both for him and about the environment.

The piece was featured on I Care If You Listen:

Natalie Draper

Praised for her “individual and strong voice” (Colin Clarke, Fanfare Magazine), composer Natalie Draper explores character and evocative sound-worlds in her music. She has written works for a variety of ensembles and performers, including organist Anne Laver, Albany Symphony’s Dogs of Desire, Beth Willer and Peabody Institute’s NEXT Ensemble, and Grammy-nominated pianist Kara Huber. Her music has been performed in a variety of concert spaces, events, and festivals, including the Albany Symphony’s American Music Festival, the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, Spectrum, Roulette, Strange Beautiful Music, the Tanglewood Music Center, and more. Draper’s music can be found on albums by Akropolis Reed Quintet, soprano Danielle Buonaiuto, and Symphony Number One. She has been featured in articles in Vox Humana, I Care If You Listen, and Van Magazine. 

Her music has received honors and recognition–Timelapse Variations garnered positive reviews from Lydia Woolever in Baltimore Magazine (“dissonant melodies that build into a unified spiral”), Tim Smith in TheBaltimore Sun (a “tense, darkly colorful churn”), and Mark Medwin in Fanfare Magazine (“…polyrhythm bolstering gorgeous pantonal harmonies and shards of chromatic counterpoint,” while  “…items burst forth, in a way that might make Mahler smile…”). In 2018, Draper remixed excerpts from Timelapse Variations for the background music of a short NASA film featuring the research of glaciologist Joe MacGregor. This video can be viewed in a variety of places, including Smithsonian Magazine. Her song cycle “O sea-starved, hungry sea,” which was released on Danielle Buonaiuto’s album “Marfa Songs” in August 2020, was praised by Phyllis Bryn-Julson, who notes that the music allows you to really “‘see’ the waves and desolate shores,” with a final movement that is “simply gorgeous.”

Draper has held residencies and fellowships at the Ucross Foundation, the Tanglewood Music Center, the I-Park Foundation, Yaddo, and St. David’s Episcopal Church in Baltimore, MD. She is a graduate of Carleton College, University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, and the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, where she studied for several years with composer Oscar Bettison and earned her doctorate. She is an assistant professor in the music theory and composition department at the Setnor School of Music at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York.