The Fire Beneath was commissioned by the Bozeman Symphony in honor of Yellowstone National Park’s 150th anniversary. With my wife and son, I made my first-ever visit to the park in September 2022 and was completely astounded by the huge variety of incredible sights. From mountain vistas, a vast lake, picturesque canyons, and rushing waterfalls, to bubbling mud pots, kaleidoscopic pools, and erupting geysers, to bison herds, bugling Elk, and howling wolves, it’s obvious why Yellowstone is considered the crown jewel of America’s National Parks. In a short six-and-a-half minutes of music I made my best attempt to capture the many sides of this singular place.
The piece opens dramatically with a tutti blast, mimicking the wonder I felt upon entering the park for the first time and taking in the breathtaking landscape on all sides. Two musical ideas here are significant and will return throughout the piece: a syncopated, oscillating tune in the horns and piano backed by a constant-motion interlocking accompaniment in the trumpets. As the initial energy begins to wane, we soon hear chords in the low-brass that are noble but foreboding, suggesting a danger just beneath the surface. A more tender theme follows in the cellos, meant to represent the bucolic animal life in the park: the playful bison calves and the grazing elk. After building to a climax with the return of the opening music, we come to the middle section, which evokes the bizarreness of the geothermally-active areas of the park. Otherworldly in character, this section features low gurgles, turbulent string gestures, and strange transformations of the low-brass chords, now featured starkly in the high piccolo and flute. Soon the tender theme returns layered in the horns over bubbling woodwinds, eventually leading to a shimmering and majestic climax that feels simultaneously rhythmically active and outside of time. The final section of the piece begins quietly, with swirling strings providing the backdrop for the tender theme, now in the woodwinds, which builds to a final upward rush, suggesting the long-awaited eruption of a geyser.