Virvatuli was composed between February and July, 1997, while I was a Fulbright Fellow in Finland. The title is the Finnish word for “will-o’-the-wisp”, the phosphorescence of methane gas in swamps. It also means a delusive and illusory hope, goal, or aim. I tried to capture the eeriness and otherworldliness of the first aspect of the title, while at the same time realizing the second aspect structurally. The opening insect calls represent reality; the orchestra, hope and idealism. A battle ensues in which hope emerges triumphant, yet before a final resolution can be achieved, it reveals its illusory nature and disintegrates, leaving only the insects… and emptiness. Cynical? Possibly, but it is only in those moments of idealism that we can approach beauty, and that in itself is a kind of truth.
Virvatuli received First Prize in the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra New Music Competition and Second Prize in the International Witold Lutoslawski Composers Competition.