Duration: ca. 3’35”
Commission: National Symphony Orchestra
Premiere: 18 April 2002, Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.)
Firebrand came about as the result of the National Symphony Orchestra’s Encore Commissioning Series. The idea was to ask composers to create works to close (rather than open) a program. Should the composer choose, the work could reflect another piece on the program, but in any event, not exceed the largest work’s instrumentation. In my case, the major work on the evening’s concert was Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony. I wrote the following description to accompany the printed programs:
Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony explores the various incarnations of the pastoral world in its separate movements. There is the idyllic country scene, the portrait of a babbling brook, the storm, and the shepherd’s praise. These different depictions more or less share one trait in common: length. A ride in the country lasts seemingly for days; the stream bubbles on ad infinitum; the shepherd sings his praise unceasingly. Time appears to be at a standstill, until eventually the sun must set. Firebrand picks up where the “Pastoral” Symphony leaves off. As the sun sets, a new world awakens––the underside of Beethoven’s world, the one he left out––in which all the mythical creatures of the woods come to life. In this world, time moves swiftly, and with breakneck speed. Given that this universe exists only within the span of a few short hours of darkness, whole lives are played out by the minute. Battles are won and lost, civilizations made and destroyed, all in the blink of an eye. Firebrand tells the story of one citizen of this night-world. He, like Beethoven himself, is a revolutionary whose time has come. Represented by the solo violin, our hero announces his cause, gathers his followers, leads a successful coup d’état only to see it come crumbling down on top of him as the sun rises again, sending the night-creatures back into hiding for another long day.
The commissioning of this work was made possible by support from the John and June Hechinger Commissioning Fund for New Orchestral Works.