Concert Notes

Xinruo Chen’s “Wine Ecstasy”

Adapted from notes by the composer

In his 2017 piece Wine Ecstasy, which was written for guqin virtuoso Zhao Xiaoxia, composer Chen Xinruo combines the musical vocabulary of East and West to create echoes of each other, filling the piece with the charm of classical music as well as the sustained tension of modern music. 

In China’s past dynasties, members of the ancient literati class relinquished politics and the glamour and fame of the royal court to live a hermetic life in the mountains and hills. They confined their pride and enthusiasm to poetry, music, art and philosophy—and to enjoying the fleeting pleasure and satisfaction of drinking wine. It was believed that art and wine endow the soul with short-term happiness and a release of pent-up spirituality, until one after another great and immortal masterpieces of art come into being. 

This piece is based on the traditional guqin melody Jiu Kuang (Wine Ecstasy), which demonstrates how literati wrote masterworks of personal freedom and escape through the ecstasy of liquor, spontaneity, and a celebration of nature—together with political avoidance. The great subtlety, refinement, and deep tone of the guqin makes a strong contrast with the wide-ranging, generous, and mellow effects of the orchestra as background. Their harmonious combination creates a multi-layered counterpoint of contrasting timbres.