Wang Jie

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Five Faces of Joy

Performed by the Curtis Symphony Orchestra with Lio

The most recent member of the Joy series, Five Faces of Joy offers five comic ways of smiling: a playful one, a jolly one, a smile from a lover, a smile from a dancing Godzilla, and a sweet smile before a vision of Ondine swims away.

This one-movement piece calls for a string orchestra and a very handsome celesta player. Although it can be performed with or without a conductor, in this premiere recording, Kouk-man Lio was the Maestro-in-command as well as (trust me) a very handsome celesta player.

Several compositions during this creative period ended up with five movements, five elements, five variations, or five instruments. Friends nagged me to reveal my secret fascination with five. I really didn’t want to disappoint my friends. So I made this one up: “Uhh, according to ancient Chinese thoughts, there are five elements in the making of the world. They are metal, wood, water, fire and earth. I was synchronized with my culture heritage.…”

Wait, but I began this piece thinking about smiles, and it still puts a big smile on my face every time hear it. The truth is, five faces just slipped out, putting themselves in this order. Not one more, not one less. All I did was be a good secretary: I listened and I wrote them down.


Joy of Sextet

Performed by the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble

Performed with or without conductor, Joy of Sextet features an elegantly crystalline and transparent sound world achieved through its orchestration for an intimate ensemble:  flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and percussion. The first of the Joy series, this dancelike movement has put a big smile on the faces of many audiences.

Let me share the story of how this came to be.

2006. I was composing a piece for the Aspen Music Festival when I made a trip to China for the premiere of my song cycle I Died for Beauty at the Beijing Modern Music Festival. When I arrived, I noticed that the festival would also feature a group of minority musicians from Inner Mongolia. These players and their music were about to reshape my artistic inspiration forever.

Inner Mongolians live in an arid grassland on the Chinese border. Life there is brutally hard. So it astonished me to hear how joyful and filled with delight their music is. There is no sadness, no expression of suffering. It’s just people getting together and offering each other the pleasure of music.

It isn’t because they are in denial or that they don’t know how to compose a sad song. They make a conscious choice to offer their best, those rare but joyful moments whenever music is present. It’s an expression of strength, and it’s moving.

It was as if I was witnessing the birth of music-making and experiencing the core of music communication in its purist form. Compared to this profound performance, the new piece I had planned for Aspen didn’t stand a chance. I tossed it and began a new piece with the joyful spirit that my Inner Mongolian friends planted in my mind. Every time I proceeded to write, a big smile appeared on my face.

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Comments [11]

Marc Chan from New York City

Joy, pleasure, play: these words are often thrown aside in favor of "profound", "dense", "serious", as though the only plausible image of art today is that it cannot smile. "Joy of Sextet" engages in play on a dazzling variety of levels, from the most profound to the wink-of-an-eye level of the pun; from title (Wang embraces the fact that composers have bodies too), to timbre (how the instrumental colors shift and combine like in a kaleidoscope), to the profound play and pleasure of repetition: for it is with repetition that form becomes indistinguishable from content, that the message blurs with the medium (time as music's medium); with repetition, music insists in a medium which constantly differentiates. Isn't this what ecstasy is: forgetting time while living in time?

Jul. 16 2010 10:27 AM
daniele hickman from belgium

Very pretty!

Jul. 07 2010 10:26 PM
Rick Komson from NYC

Five Faces of Joy is a masterful miniature symphony of smiling sound. A versatile
artist, Wang Jie is equally adept at
writing inspired works for orchestras,
chamber ensembles, and instrumental
and vocal soloists.

Jul. 01 2010 10:53 AM
Elizabeth from New York

Particularly enjoyed the timbral layering and interplay in "Joy of Sextet".

Jun. 30 2010 06:09 AM
alexa penzner from NYC

wonderful clear, crisp recording - saucy piece - very different and inventive - i love it - cheerful with a little sad motif beneath here and there. (alexa)

Jun. 26 2010 12:07 AM
Ray Seakan from Las Vegas NV

A riveting piece. Would enjoy seeing the dance choreographed to this composition. Appreciated the blended transition. Definitely would like to hear more.

Jun. 25 2010 08:36 PM
Alen Pol Kobryn from New York

Allusive, elusive, subtle, playful, joyful – a pleasure and an act of intrigue – a fine piece.

Jun. 24 2010 05:54 PM
Thomas Xenakis from NY

What an intriguing and deep-reaching piece! It works on many levels, and has the capacity to transport you to the faraway lands that it pays homage to.

Great music from an always excellent composer.

Jun. 24 2010 03:14 PM

I've been aware of this composer since her days at Curtis. Her music is a treat to hear, made better by her rare theatricality in performance. She consistently brings soul and wit to the concert music scene.

Jun. 23 2010 10:13 PM
Jay Sandvos from Boston, MA

Very nice--interesting and moving. I for one would love to hear more.

Jun. 22 2010 01:50 PM

"Five Faces of Joy" is a detailed and actually interesting piece. The development and harmonies are compelling and the style is a sort of Neo-Romantic movie soundtrack thing that's very appealing.

It's the sort of music that, in the hands of a lesser composer, could fall flat but Wang Jie is apparently not (at all!) a lesser composer.

Jun. 21 2010 07:18 PM

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