Two Jades

Violin Solo & Symphony Band
Duration: 14 minutes

Commissioned by conductor Michael Haithcock and the University of Michigan Symphony Band 2011 Tour of China

Premiere: 8 April 2011, Ann Arbor, MI

Tour of China: 11-29 May 2011, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Hangzhou, Xi’an, with finale performance at Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

About Two Jades:
The new wing of the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) houses the Shirley Chang Gallery of Chinese Art. At the base of one case are two jade objects: a bi disc and a cong tube. The forms of the bi (circle) and cong (square) date back to the Stone Age in China; yet their original meaning, names, and functions are unknown. They gained importance in the Han dynasty, where they were at the core of the earliest Chinese books on philosophy, metaphysics, and cosmology. In the Zhou Li (Book of Rites), an ancient book compiled in the Zhou dynasty and amended in the Han dynasty, the cong is described as a symbol of earth, and the bi as a symbol of sky, or after world. The nephrite jade used by the ancient Chinese was extremely hard, and had to be worn down with an abrasive paste to achieve the desired shape and decoration. The ceremonial bi and cong jade objects were often buried with their owners.

The cosmology of these objects is foreign to me because, as an American, I look at them from outside the Chinese culture. Their meanings are interpreted by my thought process as a means for creative inspiration, and an impetus for musical ideas. Shortly after my father passed away in February 2010, Michael Haithcock asked me to contribute a new piece to the University of Michigan Symphony Band 2011 Tour of China. My coming upon the two jade bi and cong objects at the UMMA evoked a compelling sense of two-ness: two objects, symbols of earth and sky; mother and father; the lives and deaths of my parents; our UofM students experiencing a foreign culture, and the gift from that culture of listening to our students perform; and esteemed UM Alumnus, violinist Xiang Gao, coupled with our symphony band.

The music of Two Jades is comprised of three sections, fast-slow-fast. The first section is my imagined journey of a jade rock being intensely, frenetically reshaped as it moves with the flow of a river. In the slower second section, I imagine the jade rock being non-passing, still, and carved with delicate, intricate ornamentation. The last section is a celebration of the beautiful moments in life I wish I could freeze into an object, and carve a symbol of the ceaseless joy of love and life, of earth and sky.