Living, Breathing Earth: Warshauer's First Makes Musical Case for the Planet

Apr 22, 2019

Meira Warshauer
Credit Bradley Fuller / South Carolina Public Radio

For many composers, getting started on a symphony can be a serious challenge. Johannes Brahms famously spent some twenty years completing his first such work.

But for South Carolina composer Meira Warshauer, inspiration was a bit easier in coming. She found it in the world around her.

“I knew that I wanted to write something about the Earth,” Meira says. “Really, since the first Earth Day in 1970, I’ve been an environmentalist.”

With the backing of three commissioning orchestras, including the South Carolina Philharmonic, Meira turned to the symphonic form to express her environmentalism through music. The scope of the genre makes it ideal for addressing large-scale issues like environmental degradation, Meira says.   

“I just felt called to connect with the Earth more deeply than I had before and through my music. It was such a huge topic that I felt like the symphonic form--I would need that much.”

The result was her Symphony No. 1, Living, Breathing Earth. The four-movement work shifts from a local to a global perspective. Following the opening “Call of the Cicadas,” two interior movements evoke experiences along tributaries of the Amazon River before the symphony’s namesake finale, “Living, Breathing Earth,” is reached. This final movement suggests the Earth’s rotation in space, and incorpoates elements of the preceding three movements.  

“The whole idea of writing it was to remind us that the Earth is so precious,” Meira says.

Since the symphony’s premiere in 2007, Meira’s concern for the environment has prompted her to write other works in the hopes of spurring environmental action. These include her Tekeeyah (A Call) (2009), a concerto for shofar and trombone, and her Ocean Calling (2013), a trilogy for two pianos. Meira is unsure if she will ever compose a second symphony, but plans to continue writing works inspired by the natural world.  

In this interview that aired Monday, April 22, South Carolina Public Radio’s Bradley Fuller speaks with Meira about the origins of the symphony as a whole, the source of inspiration for each movement, and the ways music can serve as a medium for environmental messages. 

More information about Meira and her works can be found here.