The Kennedy Center

Wu Xing (The Five Elements)

About the Work

Chen Qigang Composer: Chen Qigang
© Sharon Zhu

Wu Xing (The Five Elements), Suite for Orchestra (1999), a work by Chen Qigang, one of today's leading Chinese composers, is a delicate embodiment of Olivier Messiaen's  grand idea of "a perfect fusion of Eastern philosophical emotion and Western musical expression." Commissioned by Radio France in 1998, the piece reflects a period of personal research by the composer into the different modes and techniques of musical expression: music here becomes an art of suggestion through a refinement of detail. The five movements of Wu Xing represent a dynamic process: the work is not concerned with the traditional physical substances but with the cyclical movements which, according to the traditional Chinese concept, constitute the universe. The composer expresses in this way his personal vision of the relationships between these elements, offers a musical interpretation of what each element symbolises for him, and sets out a new order of presentation of the five Elements, based on the generating function: Water - Wood - Fire - Earth - Metal.

One of the most important Chinese composers of his generation, Chen is now well known throughout China for his work as Music Director for the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, as well as his oeuvre of concert works. Since its premiere in 2001, Wu Xing has received dozens of performances worldwide.