Jubilant Red

Instrumentation sanxian and string quartet

Timing 5′

Composed 2014

Commissioned by Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra

World Premiere November 14, 2015, Pyatt Hall, Vancouver, British Columbia. Geling Jiang, sanxian; Domagoj Ivanovic and Mark Ferris, violins; Isabelle Roland, viola; Stefan Hintersteininger, violoncello

Programme Notes

I first encountered the work of Canadian painter Jean McEwen at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. I was struck by his use of bold lines to form large shapes, and many layers of colours to create rich and vibrant textures, constantly in interior motion. I stood rapt in front of his large-scale Jubilant Red, its five panels mirrored around a central vertical black stripe, the fiery scarlet revealing yellow, black, lavender and more underneath, as I looked closer.

When the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra invited me to write a short piece for a quintet of sanxian and strings, I returned to the image of Jubilant Red as my inspiration. My own five-minute Jubilant Red is divided into five musical panels, fast-moderate-slow-moderate-fast, mirrored around a brief central sanxian solo.

The symbolism of red and black in Chinese culture have an important influence in the character of the music. Red and black are extremes: red is fire, full yang, expansive, summer, hot; black is water, full yin, conserving, winter, cold. Chinese numerology plays a large role in the work as well, particularly with the auspicious number five (representing the five elements) used at all levels of the structure, as well as three (representing the three stages of life). The very inauspicious number four (so common in Western music’s 4/4 time and four-measure phrases) is avoided, giving the music a sense of always being in motion, where every arrival is the beginning of the next journey.

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Jubilant Red excerpt

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