Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag [Large Romantic-sized orchestra] (2017)

Instrumentation:Full Orchestra
Genre:Orchestra Music

Instrumentation: 3343/4331/4Perc+Timp/Harp/OptionalCeleste/Strings

Commissioner: The National Youth Orchestra of Canada with the support of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra and Kingston Symphony Orchestra through funding provided by the Ontario Arts Council.

Premiere: The standard-sized orchestra version was premiered by the Saskatoon Symphony, Eric Paetkau, conductor, in Centennial Hall, Saskatoon, SK on May 13, 2017 and later by the Kingston Symphony, Evan Mitchell, conductor, at the Isabel Bader Performing Arts Centre, Kingston, ON, on October 22, 2017.  The large Romantic-sized orchestra version is to be featured Canadian commisioned work for the National Youth Orchestra of Canada's cross-Canada tour in the summer of 2017.

YouTube: The National Youth Orchestra of Canada's performance of this work at Maison symphonique in Montreal on July 23, 2017, can be viewed at:

CBC Interview: CBC Vancouver's Early Morning Show interviewed Maxwell Newhouse in studio with John Burge joining by phone from Ontario on June 7, 2017, to discuss the Chilliwack Cultural Centre's display of Max's Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag and John's musical interpretation of the work scheduled for performance in Nanaimo, BC by the National Youth Orchestra of Canada on August 13th: CBC-Interview-Recording.  CBC also printed a web article that can be found at: CBC-Newhouse/Burge-Article

is an online journal with the byline, "Academic rigour, journalistic flair." In anticipation of the CBC webcast of the National Youth Orchestra of Canada's performance of Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag on Sunday, July 23, 2017, the publication invited John Burge to write a personal account of the inspiration and composition of the piece: Powerful Flag Painting Inspires Composer to Connect Canadian.

Program Notes: Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag, for large Romantic orchestra, was commissioned by the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, for the orchestra’s cross-Canada tour celebrating the nation’s 150th anniversary of confederation in 2017.  The Ontario Arts Council provided funding for this commission which was also supported by the Saskatoon and Kingston Symphony Orchestras.  These two supporting orchestras premiered a version requiring smaller orchestral forces in 2017 as well.  The scores and performance materials for both orchestrations of this piece will be available from the Canadian Music Centre.

The inspiration for this work is described by the composer as follows:

On February 11th, 2015, the Globe and Mail newspaper included a photograph of a one-day installation that artist Maxwell Newhouse presented of his four canvasses titled, FOUR SEASONS OF THE CANADIAN FLAG.  Max staged this installation in honour of the 50th anniversary of the Canadian flag.  A simple but resonatingly profound concept, the four large canvases of the flag present the central maple leaf of the flag in a state to match each season with "summer" being a full-sized maple leaf, "fall" a withering leaf, "winter" has a completely empty space in the middle and "spring" is but a small bud of a leaf.  Max created this work in 1975 to recognize the 10th anniversary of the flag and holds the patent on the images.

At the time I had been looking for an idea that could inspire a new composition that would recognize Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation and it seemed immediately apparent that these four canvasses demanded a musical interpretation.  Certainly Vivaldi has done well with his four concertos modelled on the seasons.  Max was in complete agreement with this idea and provided his blessing and even painted a single canvas of all four flags for me.  The National Youth Orchestra of Canada immediately embraced commissioning and premiering the musical version of FOUR SEASONS OF THE CANADIAN FLAG for their national tour in the summer of 2017.  The National Youth Orchestra of Canada is a large, 100-player orchestra and as many orchestras lack such instrumental numbers, I am incredibly grateful that the NYOC recognized that having a version of the piece for smaller orchestra would be of great benefit and help the work secure a more immediate place in the Canadian orchestral repertoire.  This decision lead to the involvement of the Saskatoon and Kingston Symphony Orchestras.

The resultant work 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 emphasises passages that are always descending.  “Winter” is a movement of stark, dissonant contrasts that makes the most use of distinctive percussion colours.  “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.  Spring has an almost spiritual effect in the way the resurrection of nature can mirror the soul of the observer.  Throughout the work, there are moments of focused intimacy, such as the lyrical violin melody in “Summer”, the English horn focus in “Winter” and the cello section solo in “Spring” all of which attempt to personify a more individual perspective to the shifting of the Canadian seasons.

Information about Maxwell Newhouse, the artist behind the original canvases, can be found at: Maxwellnewhouse.com

Max was kind enough to paint John Burge a miniature version of the artwork, a photograph of which can be found at the top of this page.  Max also sent John Burge a photograph of the originals which can be seen below: