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About this Piece

Composer Kristin Kuster “writes commandingly for the orchestra,” and her music “has an invitingly tart edge” (New York Times). Kuster’s music takes inspiration from architectural space, the weather, and mythology. Recent CD releases include the title track on the PRISM Saxophone Quartet’s Breath Beneath, and Lost Gulch Lookout on Millennium Canons: Looking Forward, Looking Back by the UGA Wind Ensemble (Naxos). Her music has received support from such organizations as the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Sons of Norway, American Composers Orchestra, the League of American Orchestras, Meet the Composer, the Jerome Foundation, the American Composers Forum, American Opera Projects, the National Flute Association, and the Argosy Foundation. Kuster grew up in Boulder, Colorado, and she earned her Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Michigan, where she now serves as Assistant Professor of Composition. The composer provided the following note:

“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 afterworld. 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 UM 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 comprises 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.”

Support for this commission was provided by the University of Michigan’s H. Robert Reynolds Commissioning Fund.

— Notes supplied by the University of Michigan