The last Messiaen concert of the festival

Read another blogger’s experience of the final concert in the Messiaen festival:

I had heard their names many times before and I had seen people speaking about them in awe and respect. When I had the chance to buy tickets some months ago for the centenary concert for Olivier Messiaen, conducted by Pierre Boulez, at the RFH, I did not hesitate. I had to see it for myself, as I had never seen Boulez before nor actually listened to any of his music. – My last encounter with more experimental music was also at the Southbank Centre, some months ago, when I went to listen to the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performing a world premiere of a contemporary piece – an experience I very much enjoyed. I was therefore looking forward to go and see Boulez conducting two pieces by Messiaen and one of his own compositions.

The house was well filled, with some familiar faces, people I had seen at previous concerts here, or friends from student days. I had brought along two friends, one of which is a big music buff and who was even more excited about this evenings performance.

And rightly so. The concert was the last in a series to celebrate the centenary of Olivier Messiaen, teacher to many serialist composers, amongst which Boulez, and one of the most influential musical innovators of the twentieth century. Although I am personally more at home with Beethoven, it turned out that it was not difficult at all to experience this different kind of music.

As we were into the first piece “Couleurs de la cite celeste”, Pierre Boulez conducting, images started to appear in my head. I was reminded of the sound of church bells. And indeed, Messiaen, an organist himself, brought together in this piece his deep Catholic faith with his interest in color and his love of birdsong. And the performance itself was a historic moment, as the world premiere of the piece in 1964 had also been conducted by Pierre Boulez. But the whiff of history did certainly not mean that there was no life to it all.

Messiaen’s creation of soundscapes and exploration of sound, rather then the creation of melodies, might seem like a thing of the past, but, as I was sitting in this majestic auditorium that is the Royal Festival Hall, I was convinced that the music had not lost any of its spiritual power. What is more, I found that the exploration of sounds, the mixing of influences, such as in “Sept Haiki”, the second piece of the evening, which was heavily influenced by Japanese style music and theatre, were as fresh and radical as they had been on the day of their first performance. Coming myself from an art background, I looked at the performance as a whole, at the orchestra, at Boulez and the score, and I felt that I was experiencing a truly genuine effort at creating a relevant and revelatory moment. It was almost like a performance piece. Just so much better. There was life and passion in it. And to my surprise, the music seemed to be all the clearer and all the more precise because of it.

It was however, Boulez conducting Boulez, “sur Incises”, the last piece of the evening after the interval that truly moved me to the point of being one of those rare eye-opening moments. Three pianos, three harps and three percussionists, coming together in what one critic once described as a “super-instrument” played a piece that was so full of energy and and vibrancy that it was hard not to captivated. It was fast, yet meditative as it meandered through the sounds. Using three pianos allows Boulez to create a sound so rich in color and depth that a single piano would not have been able to explore.

It was after a strong, raving applause that me and my friends left the RFH elated and uplifted. We felt certainly enriched by the Messiaen/Boulez experience, having discovered a whole new world of possibilities.

From QueenofPrussia’s blog.

Countdown to Messiaen’s birthday

Join pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, conductor Pierre Boulez and Ensemble intercontemporain for a celebration of Olivier Messiaen, on what would have been his 100th birthday on 10 December, at Royal Festival Hall.

We’ve been making some videos about Messiaen and his music over the last year as part of our From the Canyons to the Stars festival. Listen to interviews with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, ex-Cream bassist Jack Bruce, George Benjamin, Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory and conductor Susanna Malkki.