The Water of Life

Year Composed: 2009
Instrumentation: 2+picc.2.2.2/ perc/hp/strings
Duration 16 minutes

Audio Excerpts (MP3)

Program Notes

Composed for the major charity event Music for Change, The Water of Life is a rhapsody for violin and orchestra whose title holds several meanings. Apart from the obvious literal and poetic metaphors between water and life, the title is itself a direct reference to Michael Ende’s children’s novel, The Neverending Story. In the second half of this tale, the protagonist, enveloped by the darkness of an empty universe, is given the opportunity to realize his deepest dreams, and so begins with the creation of a world: Fantastica. With each subsequent wish fulfilled, he moves on to the next, but at the expense of his memory. Over the course of the story he experiences an astonishing spectrum of psychological states: wonder, joy, power, then bitterness, self-loathing, and the impulse to destroy what he has created, and finally: isolation, the desire for communal acceptance, the longing for innocence and maternal care (symbolized by the appearance of the solo cello near the end of the work.) Stripped of nearly all memory of his past (including his own name), he struggles to find the ever-flowing Water of Life, which represents a gateway back to his own world and to his own identity; but in order to pass through, he must experience the deepest of human wishes: to love.

Musically, The Water of Life is as much a loose depiction of this journey as it is a meditation on its themes. Opening with a solo violin cadenza representing the dawn of a world, the soloist is joined by the orchestra in performing a simple, Celtic-flavoured theme—harmoniously at first, then with increasing agitation, leading to discord—and, finally, redemption. During the work’s central section, I wanted to create a sound that expressed the sensation of flying, so iconic an image in the novel. This became the “Fantastica” theme, which, above all, represents wonderment: a tribute to our capacity for imagination and hope, and for the dreams which inspire us to live our lives with illumination.


  • May 23, 2009 - Conrad Chow, violin; Sneak Peek Orchestra, conducted by Victor Cheng. George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts, Toronto
  • November 24, 2009 (recording) - Conrad Chow, violin; Sneak Peek Orchestra, conducted by Victor Cheng. Calvin Presbyterian Church, Toronto
  • May 16, 2012 - 8pm - Lucy Zhang, violin; Ben Darwin, piano (piano reduction only). Kitchener Waterloo Chamber Music Society, Music Room, Waterloo.
  • April 14, 2013 - 3pm - Grace Hong, violin; Orchestra Toronto, conducted by Danielle Lisboa. George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts, North York.


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