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Program note: Margaret Brandman's "Firestorm for orchestra"

  • notes by the composer

Firestorm is a three-movement work depicting the atmosphere and feelings during the summer of 1993-94 during which time the composer lived in the forested Blue Mountains, west of Sydney and experiences some of Australia’s most severe and terrifying bushfires. The piece was inspired by a dream which came to the composer’s mother, accordionist Else Brandman, shortly after the bushfires.

The orchestral version of this piece is dedicated to the victims of the 1993-94, 2001 and 2009 fires in NSW and Victoria.

First Movement
The first movement begins with sounds depicting the shimmering heat and oppressive stillness on midsummer days followed by short bursts of wind and cries of the cockatoos which break the hot stillness. Dry hot winds build in intensity and the only sound which pierces the wind is the eerie monotone cry of a native bird.

Fires burst out, dotting the countryside and sending the people and animals scurrying. Fear grips the townships and residents rush about preparing their houses to defend the fires.
The fires take hold.  Birds and native animals flee and water is poured over the land to staunch the fires. The movement finishes with the echo of the cry of the native bird.

Second Movement
The second movement begins with the sound of three bells tolling as heard in the memorial service for the victims in the 2009 fires. It depicts the sorrow and reflection of the nation after the devastation of the fires, which for the first time affected even suburban areas of Sydney where several lives were lost and many people were left homeless.  The nation reels back, stunned by the ferocity of the fires. Yet through the tears there are signs of renewal and a sense that life must go on.

Third Movement
The final movement reflects the renewal of the bush with new green shoots appearing after the fires and the rebuilding of lives affected by the tragedy. The piece begins with an ostinato figure using an 11/16 rhythm superimposed over the orchestral motives 16/16. This is a minimalist technique which creates intriguing cross rhythms. The chordal theme, announced after the ostinato figure, is based
on material from the end of the first movement and has a unifying and rounding out effect for the whole work. Quartal harmony is a feature of the movement, lending a feeling of vigour and brightness to the piece. After the climax point attained by the rising fourth figures, the final coda rounds the piece off, echoing thematic material from earlier in the piece.


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