Composed in 1999, the second symphony by Chinese composer Xia Guan (b. 1957) carries the title of Hope. Guan sees hope as the ‘driving force in life’ and believes that without hope, he couldn’t even imagine what life would be like. Through the work, he reflects on the coexistence of agony and hope, good and evil, in mankind and the importance of struggle and persistence to push mankind forward.
The symphony opens with Expectation and Quest and with a seeming trumpet fanfare, yet one that seems filled not with the scent of battle but of uncertainty. The rest of the brass enter, setting us back on a positive track, but then the woodwinds bring in that feeling of uncertainty again. The brass returns, attempting to change the mood in a more positive manner, but the softness of the woodwinds overtakes them again. In the central Allegro section, the snare provides a driving rhythm for the Quest. In the end, we return to a more forward-looking sound, but it’s undercut by the final chord, which doesn’t fully resolve. ‘This is only the beginning of the journey’.
Xia Guan: Symphony No. 2, “Hope” – I. Expectation and Quest: Largo – Allegro – Largo (Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra; En Shao, cond.)
The second movement, Warmth, starts very, very quietly. A lyrical melody begins in the strings and then is passed to the woodwinds and on to the rest of the orchestra. The whole movement is deliberate and focuses on the warm sounds of the orchestra, with horn solos and a cor anglais solo providing a melancholic feel. The movement builds from these solo sounds to full orchestra and then drops back to chamber orchestra levels and then back to the quiet of the opening.
Xia Guan: Symphony No. 2, “Hope” – II. Warmth: Adagio (Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra; En Shao, cond.)
With the final movement Light, the orchestra comes to full power. The uncertain trumpet of movement one is now bright and confident, leading a full brass and percussion fanfare. The quiet small spaces of preceding movements are swept away in a grand vision outward that signals that all of the earlier fears can now be set aside with the achievement of the goal.
Xia Guan: Symphony No. 2, “Hope” – III. The Light: Allegro (Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra; En Shao, cond.)
Guan said about the work, ‘‘It is because of hope that the world becomes warm, and humans become resilient.’
For us, looking at this work some 24 years after its creation, the word ‘resilient’ hangs in the air. That was the word from COVID – where everything, from people to PPE to institutions, had to prove its resilience. It was the wiggle word where we didn’t know what to say about our own survival. When Guan uses it, he uses it in its meaning of something or someone having the ability ‘able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions’. And that is what hope brings us – the ability to see the good when bad is all around and to move forward no matter what. We will be stressed, we will seek quiet holes of comfort, but we will still advance. Have Hope for the New Year!
Guan says he wrote the symphony for those in sincere pursuit of their dreams.
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