Duration: ca. 15′
Commission: Symphony Tacoma
Premiere: 13 May 2017, Pantages Theatre (Tacoma, Wash.)
Fire-Mountain takes its name from the following quote by the celebrated naturalist, John Muir: “Of all the fire-mountains which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest in form” (Our National Parks, 1901). I took as my point of departure not only the inspiring nature of our mountain’s setting, but also its very shape.
If one were to trace the outline of the mountain with the tip of a finger, he or she would describe two prominent peaks: Little Tahoma to the east, and Columbia Crest, Mt. Rainier’s summit, to the west. This image is so embedded in any Pacific Northwesterner’s consciousness, that it’s hard for one of us to even think of “home” without recalling it to mind. And it’s this image that encapsulates Fire-Mountain‘s form.
As the peaks and valleys of this outline rise and fall, so do the large-scale sections of the music. The piece begins with the whisper of wind, relying on the choir and strings to create the effect, and then builds towards its first peak (Little Tahoma). At this point, a new, more lyrical theme emerges in the brass (itself tracing the contours of Rainier’s peaks), eventually rising to the musical summit (Columbia Crest). Now the choir enters once again, singing emphatic snatches of the Muir quote above. But the music shifts tone, becoming more liquid; panicked sounds are heard all through the orchestra and choir. The music cascades down in a rush of sound, depicting Mt. Rainier’s threatened glaciers. The ending asks more of a question than it provides an answer: What will our mountain’s fate be? How can we shape its destiny?
The music was composed over the summer, fall, and winter of 2016-17, and is scored for a moderately large orchestra and choir. I am indebted to the incomparable Sarah Ioannides, a longtime friend, for conceiving of this project, as well as the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Park Service whose grants supported Fire-Mountain.