Canadian composer, John Burge, wrote a symphony based on Cultus Lake artist (pictured) Maxwell Newhouse’s piece Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag. Jenna Hauck/ Progress File

Newhouse’s paintings an inspiration for Canadian symphony

Composer writes symphony based on Chilliwack artist Maxwell Newhouse’s piece Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag

Maxwell Newhouse’s work is taking a trip across Canada, and will be making several stops along the way.

The Cultus Lake artist’s four-piece painting, Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag, was the inspiration behind a new symphony written by Canadian composer John Burge.

And now that symphony, also named Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag, will be part of the National Youth Orchestra of Canada’s (NYOC) Edges of Canada Tour. The NYOC is made up of 90-100 of the nation’s finest young musicians.

Burge saw a photo of Newhouse with his paintings in a national newspaper in 2015. It was February, and Newhouse was celebrating the 50th anniversary of our nation’s flag by having a one-day, outdoor art show in Chilliwack featuring the four paintings which he completed 40 years ago for the 10th anniversary of the flag.

After seeing the photo in the newspaper, Burge suddenly had a vision.

“He went jogging that evening, and it came to him like an epiphany,” says Newhouse. “He said almost in an instant he wrote the entire symphony in his head. It was triggered by those four seasons.”

To say Newhouse is happy to hear his work was the inspiration for a symphony would be an understatement.

“It’s wilder than anything I could have expected,” he says. “This is probably better than being collected by the National Gallery, that’s how important it is to me, because it’s another artist who sees the same vision.”

Newhouse’s work is currently on display in the lobby at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre. The show, Birth of a Nation, features about 20 pieces with Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag as the main, central piece.

The four pieces that make up Four Seasons presents the maple leaf in different states to match each season. The ‘summer’ piece is a full-sized maple leaf, ‘fall’ is a curled-up leaf, ‘winter’ is a completely empty white space, and ‘spring’ is but a small bud of a leaf.

Ironically, the show will come down just before Canada Day, but after that, Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag will be lovingly packed up and shipped east to Ontario to travel with the NYOC and be on display throughout its 11 tour stops.

The NYOC’s tour begins on July 22 in Ottawa. It moves to the East Coast, then crosses central Canada before making its last two stops in B.C. in Nanaimo and Vancouver on Aug. 13 and 15, respectively.

Burge’s Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag consists of four very tightly written movements in which ‘Summer’ is the shortest, and like most Canadian summers, simply flies along in a blur of swirling gestures contrasted with a prominent French horn theme. ‘Fall’ is the most introspective movement of the set and constantly emphasizes passages that are always descending. ‘Winter’ is a movement of stark, dissonant contrasts that makes the most use of distinctive percussion colours. And ‘Spring’ attempts to capture those moments when the earth starts to thaw, and eventually the pent-up energy that has been frozen all winter is rejuvenated in a long build-up to a climax based on the opening French horn theme from the first movement.

“I’ve got a symphony written about my work and I’m not dead,” Newhouse says with a smile. “Usually they honour someone who’s passed away. That’s the most alarming thing.”

You can catch Newhouse’s show, Birth of a Nation, and see Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag up until the end of June at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre.



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