Thursday, October 30, 2008

Good news, for a change

[Alain] Trudel and Montreal businessman Philippe Labelle say the CBC's 70-year-old Vancouver orchestra will carry on after its official farewell concert on Nov. 16, with a new name and an expanded mandate.

"We've talked to a lot of people, and it's going ahead," said Labelle, who told The Globe and Mail in August about his desire to mount a rescue mission for an orchestra located 5,000 kilometres from his home. "It will be called the National Broadcast Orchestra (NBO), and it will be based in Vancouver."

The reformed entity will be independent from the CBC, he says, and will expand beyond conventional broadcasting into webcasting and other types of Internet distribution.
Original article here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Opera libretti and other sad stories

Writer Ron Rosenbaum has a long piece on Adams' recent opera Doctor Atomic, in which he takes exception to the opera's poorly-written libretto. (Thanks to The Penitent Wagnerite for the link.) I can't judge Doctor Atomic for myself, having never seen the opera - although I was less than impressed by the excerpt posted recently by Alex Ross - but I've heard enough similar criticisms to believe Rosenbaum that the libretto is severely flawed. What interests me, though, is why operagoers don't see this as a problem. Rosenbaum, rather cynically, suggests that the members of the audience at the Metropolitan are there to congratulate themselves on their own intelligence and good taste. Accepting the faults of the libretto, therefore, would be an implicit admission that they're wasting their time, that they have been hoodwinked, and so they blind themselves to the obvious problems right in front of their noses. I don't agree, obviously, and would like to point out some more realistic possibilities.

First, and most obvious, is the fact that most operas are in other languages than English. The translation blinds us to whatever faults, or virtues, the original libretto might have once had. Once translated and put up on surtitles, all opera libretti become equally stilted and awkward. Sometimes the effect is bathetic, as in a production I once say of Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande: "I am not happy," sobs Melisande, who has just been verbally abused by her husband for losing her wedding ring. Being a regular operagoer, however, requires you to get over this awkwardness of expression. You learn to separate the music of the opera from the texts; the former is of high quality and high importance, while the latter is a mere aid to help you comprehend the action. To sum up: since the advent of surtitles, opera audiences have been trained to expect opera texts to be poorly written, and to compensate for this.

Writing as Samuel Marchbanks, Robertson Davies inveighed against the low literary quality of the translated texts at art-song recitals, and tried to imagine how an English song like "Drink to me only with thine eyes" would be translated for an Italian-speaking audience:
Let us agree, when drinking, to employ the eyeballs only; similarly with kisses. I sent you some flowers recently, and you sent them back after breathing on them; they are still alive but are now imbued with your own personal odour.
A second, related point is that an alarming number of composers have a tin ear for poetry. Here's an example from the "In taberna" movement of Carmina Burana:
Parum sexcente nummate
durant, cum immoderate
bibunt omnes sine meta.

[Word-for-word translation]
Few of six hundred coins
last, with immoderation
drinks everyone without limit.
If you know the work, you'll remember that this comes close to the end of the movement; each line ending is punctuated by a short, snappy orchestral interlude with lots of percussion. Musically, it's very exciting, but in terms of Latin text setting, it's terrible - Orff steamrolls through each line, without care for the terrified punctuation marks that lie in his path, and then adds huge breaks at each line ending despite the fact that the sense of the text continues onwards.

I chose a Latin example because it's supposed to be an easy language to set well - but Orff absolutely destroys any logical sense the text might originally have had. A persistent myth still exists in the musical world that English is extraordinarily difficult to set well, but it's not, and as Exhibit A I offer you the entire corpus of English cathedral music. Whatever you may think about the music of Stanford, Howells, etc., I would argue that an essential characteristic of their music is this exacting care in text setting, inherited from the Tudor polyphonists. Every accented syllable is in its appropriate place, every comma is observed, and the sense of the text is carefully matched to the musical form. And so, when Benjamin Britten came to writing operas, he didn't have far to look for models of English text setting. Which is why it annoyed me so much to read John Adams's disparaging comments about Britten's "stilted" text setting - it's Adams, with his subjugation of textual sense to the needs of postminimalist process, whose text setting is mannered.

The appallingly low standard of vocal text setting in contemporary music is one of my continual hobbyhorses, and so I fear that I've gotten far away from my original point, which is simply this: composers frequently butcher the texts they try to set. When punctuation marks are ignored, accented syllables are not placed in appropriate places in the bar, and the text is generally rendered unintelligible both from a phonetic and semantic perspective, we get out of the habit of listening to the text at all.

The upshot of all of this, unfortunately, is that attending vocal performances trains listeners to scan the text for general sense but not to try to follow it or to judge its literary quality. If we don't understand the language being set, we have to follow an awkward and often bathetic translation; if we do understand the language, the text setting often makes it impossible for us to follow. So why is it surprising that millions of listeners saw nothing unusual in an opera with a poorly-written libretto? And who better than Ron Rosenbaum, an outsider to the opera scene, to point out the problem?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Swedish discoveries

I listen to a lot of pretty obscure music. Some of it sticks, and I continue listening to it for years. Most of it doesn't, either because I failed to understand the music or because it wasn't worth extensive study. I've lost count of the number of times that I've read in CD liner notes about the terrible, hideous and unaccountable neglect of some little-known American symphonist - only to find that the music inside amounts to imitation Stravinsky, well-crafted but lacking any distinctive personality of its own. I had a similar experience recently upon listening to Myaskovsky's Sixth Symphony; the music was impeccably written - probably better than much Shostakovich, truth be told - but there were no surprises in terms of style; it was written in a mid-century Russian idiom familiar from works by Prokofiev, Shostakovich or Khachaturian. Myaskovsky, in other words, is not essential to our picture of Soviet music; he speaks a language that we can hear elsewhere. (This is an unfortunate historical irony - Myaskovsky is older than any of those three composers, and so it seem likely that they stole from him rather than vice versa - but their works happen to have been the ones that entered the international repertoire.)

Sometimes, though, you run into a composer who speaks a different language entirely, and you're bowled over. This evening I listened to a very different Sixth Symphony, this time by Swedish composer Allan Pettersson (1911-1980). The symphony lasts a full hour, and is cast in a single movement with an unchanging time signature and only minor tempo fluctuations - which sounds like the most boring thing in the entire world, except that I only know this from looking at the score. Pettersson's rhythmic language is incredibly subtle; a basic 2/2 time signature can breed all sorts of overlapping patterns in different meters, and I soon discovered that the music made a better impression if I stopped trying to count.

Pettersson's music is not easy to grasp, and is certainly not background music. The idiom is basically tonal, deeply rooted in counterpoint, but is at times highly dissonant, and has an white-hot intensity that makes listening to the music emotionally draining. Pettersson layers ostinato on ostinato, gradually accumulating power until finally, just when the tension is about to become unbearable, the clouds clear away to reveal a totally new landscape. The slow ending of the symphony presents us with a gorgeous, long-breathed melody which slowly moves upward through the cellos, violas and violins, until the music fades away.

I've never heard anything quite like this in orchestral music, and I can only admire Pettersson's ability to so expertly build and dispel tension over such long time spans. It's too early to say whether I'll remain a Pettersson enthusiast forever, but I'm intrigued and look forward to continued explorations of this repertoire.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The accompanist as editor

For amusement's sake, let's take six choral accompaniments I am currently preparing and arrange them from most to least idiomatic for the organ:

How dazzling fair (Charles Wood)
I was glad (C. H. H. Parry)
Zadok the Priest (G. F. Handel)
O how amiable (Ralph Vaughan Williams)
Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (Johannes Brahms - from Ein Deutsches Requiem)
The Hour has Come (Srul Irving Glick)

Most people, even other musicians, are probably not aware of the extent to which the organist-accompanist creates his own score for the works he performs. A part like "How dazzling fair" can be played as written and sound fairly good - the Glick, on the other hand, is literally unplayable as it appears in the score and requires extensive modification. As a collaborative pianist, your role is comparatively simple - to play the score accurately and musically, while being sensitive to the needs of the soloist or ensemble that you're accompanying. (I still do quite a lot of collaborative piano work, and can vouch for the fact that this is no easy task!) Yet accompanying on the organ adds another layer of complexity entirely:

1. If your part is written for the organ and has particularly detailed instructions, you must select stops and distribute the part across the various manuals in a way which suits the instrument, choir and acoustic. Because you will have limited rehearsal time, you must be able to change any aspect of this plan at a moment's notice.

2. If your part is written for the organ but lacks detailed instructions, you must develop a registration scheme entirely from scratch, trying to find appropriate colours to suit the style of the piece and looking for opportunities to "solo out" an important inner voice, plus everything listed under #1.

3. If your part is written for piano (or for "piano or organ", which means the same thing), you must edit the part to eliminate pianistic figuration, generally consolidating arpeggiated or Alberti-bass figuration into sustained chords. A pedal line can typically be generated by playing the bass voice of the piano part in the pedals, but this doesn't always work and it will often be necessary to compose a pedal line based on the implied bass line of the part. Generally, this will result in a rather "thin"-sounding part which must be filled out by adding additional notes from within the chords. Plus, of course, everything listed under #2.

4: If your part is an orchestral reduction, it is likely intended for performance on piano and thus has all the problems associated with group 3. In addition, it will probably be necessary to consult a recording or score of the orchestral original in order to select appropriate registrations. Placing the bass line (double bass, cello, or tuba parts) in the pedals makes it possible to write in an inner voice (cello, bassoon, viola, or horn) to be played by the left hand, often using a solo registration.

It's a tough life, in other words. Not all of these issues are unique to the organ - a good collaborative pianist will know the orchestral score for a concerto reduction, and add things to the part accordingly - but in combination, these problems become somewhat daunting. Unfortunately, the Glick is about as bad as it gets (group 4+++) and so will require almost total rewriting before I'm satisfied with it.

On the plus side, organ accompaniments don't get much more fun than "Zadok" or "I was glad".

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Holmboe on music-blogging

Music is a disguised energy source which has a clear and strong influence on the thought and mind, an immediate effect which can reach far beyond the merely entertaining. Much is written about music, but when I consider the subject, as here, in a more psychological perspective, I must recognize the paradoxical in the relationship between the descriptive word and the inexplicable in music.
On the one hand, we can claim that music is exclusively forms moved in sound, that it cannot have any other substance, and that its assertions are as abstract as those of mathematics. On the other hand, it is precisely the substance that can be meaningful, be concretely present, produce a strong emotional impact and thought-provoking impulses. Music cannot say anything, yet it says so much. It is readily accessible to everyone, but nevertheless difficult to grasp. It is not logical, but can have a strict logic in its elaboration.
Such paradoxes are, of course, only apparent. They are pseudo-opposites which result from verbal formulations and visual ideas which can say nothing about the nature of music itself. It may thus seem absurd to wish to write about those aspects of music which words must relinquish. However, I believe that we must point out again and again the many particular relations there are between humanity and music, and that we discuss the subject in a perspective difficult from the purely technical, regardless that we can never get to the bottom of, but must constantly circle around, the inexplicable.
Vagn Holmboe, Experiencing Music, 105.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Great battles of textual criticism

[Klaus Beckmann's edition of the Buxtehude organ works] used a method of "internal textual criticism" ("innere Textkritik") which was based on inferred structural elements, analogies, and perceived musical logic. The result was a textually eclectic edition which a combination of conflation and conjecture that has proven extremely controversial.
[In this edition], no attempt has been made to reconstruct the readings of the composer's holographs. Recognizing that the texts of Buxtehude's free organ works must have undergone many changes both during and after the composer's lifetime, the editors believe that to present a text that claims either to be 'definitive' or, indeed, to be much more than a conservative rendering of an extant source can result only in text-critical and historical misrepresentation.

Christoph Wolff, writing in the introduction to the new Broude edition of Buxtehude's organ works. Italics mine.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

An "Organ Spectacular Day" manifesto

The organ is dying, we keep being told, and the people who say this are so sure of themselves that it seems somehow unkind to contradict them. Yet this dubious factoid is founded on premises which seem to me wholly absurd. “The organ doesn’t appeal to young people”, I am told solemnly by people who don’t seem to have noticed that I am less than half their age. “The organ is really only meant for Baroque music,” I am informed, although the piles of twentieth- and twenty-first-century music in my library would seem to suggest otherwise. But all of this is missing the broader question: what would it look like if a musical instrument “died”? Obviously, a musical instrument is dead if no-one plays it (when was the last time you attended a glass harmonica concert, or a krummhorn recital?), but a visit to the annual Canadian organ convention, or one of the many organ competitions, will confirm that there’s no shortage of musicians who play the organ at a high level. In fact, you don’t have to leave the city – just take a brisk walk down to the cathedral, where you can hear a different organ recital programme every week at noon-hour, or visit one of the many churches where organ music is an integral part of the parish community. It seems to me that the real situation is this: organists, like all classical musicians, have lost a preordained position of social privilege that they once enjoyed. In my view, this is all to the good; we now have to work to earn the respect of other musicians and the broader public, and if this makes us think more critically about what we’re doing, we’ll be better musicians for it.

Enough of this. The American Guild of Organists has declared October 19th as a day of general rejoicing to celebrate the organ and its music, and rejoice we shall! Not because the organ is an important part of music history, or – heaven forfend – a “Part Of Our Heritage”, but because pipe organs are really cool.

from the programme notes to my "Organ Spectacular Day" recital

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Very very sorry

Anyone who reads TBWCTW via RSS will have already noticed that the previous post, as originally published, is in an enormous font size which is almost totally unreadable. This is now fixed.

I'm trying to figure out a way that this could somehow be Blogger's fault, but nothing's coming. Whoops.

Unwanted political ramblings

Well, the Canadian election came and went without anything particularly interesting happening. We got to read about some not very interesting platforms and watch some highly deceptive campaign advertisements. Then we went to the polls, and elected the same minority government as before. I love Canadian politics!

There were no particular winners in this election, but there were two losers: firstly, the Liberal Party, which lost tremendous ground under lame-duck leader Stephane Dion. Dion's professorial demeanour and strong accent did not play well in English Canada. Myself, I rather liked Dion - he's a Frenchman who doesn't appeal to a general public, JUST LIKE MESSIAEN - but my endorsement does not appear to have helped his chances. Time for a leadership convention?

The biggest loser, however, was the Canadian electorate. Voter turnout in this election hit an all-time low, and it's not hard to see why. The election was called suddenly for no particular reason, fell at an inconvenient time, and was over before any of the parties were able to construct a coherent platform. Meanwhile, a series of extraordinarily disturbing events overshadowed the campaign, including a series of appalling politically motivated car vandal attacks. And then, of course, the usual madnesses of our electoral system; the separatist Bloc Quebecois party earned fifteen more seats than the New Democrats despite the fact that the NDP garnered twice as many votes as the Bloc, and the Green party earned 6% of the popular vote without winning a single seat. It seems practically designed to destroy any faith in the Canadian electoral system you might have left - particularly since the media have already switched back to the American election. Here's hoping for a better campaign next time around.

Despite not being an American citizen and having no sympathy for the McCain/Palin campaign, I cannot resist a call for help, especially a Messiaen-related one. So in the spirit of Bach for Obama, I present Messiaen for McCain:

Majeste du Christ demandant sa gloire a son pere (from L'Ascension)
Combat entre la mort et la vie (from Les corps glorieux)
Communion - les oiseaux et les sources (from Messe de la Pentecote)
Apparition de l'eglise eternelle
Institution de l'Euchariste (from Livre du Saint-Sacrement)
Nous, Dieu parmi (from La Nativite du Seigneur)

As an added bonus, this would actually work really well as a concert programme. I'd be delighted if someone actually performs this at a Republican campaign event, mainly because Sarah Palin's reaction would be priceless.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The agony of self-recrimination

The ever-alert David Sinden informs us that yesterday represented a rare opportunity to play Herbert Howells's Saraband for the Twelfth Day of any October at a Sunday service. (October 12th last fell on a Sunday in 2003, and will not do so again until 2014.)

The Howells piece is dedicated to Ralph Vaughan Williams - October 12 being his birthday. Of course, the coincidence is even more striking when you consider that 2008 is an RVW anniversary year. I am profoundly embarrassed to have missed this opportunity - even more so when I realize that I actually blogged about Vaughan Williams's birthday not two days ago!

Sunday, October 12 will next coincide with an RVW anniversary year in 2183, when we will commemorate the 225th anniversary of the composer's death. Thus, the period between opportunities to play Howells's Saraband during an RVW anniversary year is significantly greater than that of Halley's Comet.

The horrors of intercity travel

From my perspective, there are few greater horrors in our urban world than a large bus terminal on a holiday weekend. Hordes of people milling around, endless lineups, exhaust fumes everywhere, having to scramble out of the way of traffic, and - worst of all for this musician - the literally deafening noise of a dozen buses, all with engines idling, in a confined space. I kept having visions of calling up R. Murray Schafer and launching a nation-wide anti-bus campaign.

I suppose what I'm saying is that I did not have an enjoyable bus ride home from my Thanksgiving weekend. But all of this seems rather petty in retrospect - after all, I was travelling from a relaxing, enjoyable holiday meal with family to my comfortable, adequately-heated home. On a holiday intended for us to take time to be glad of what we have, how sad that my mood can be so totally ruined by an hour and a half standing in line at a bus depot.

Over at She Reads Books, Christine is setting a much better example - she's challenging her readers, between now and American Thanksgiving, to donate towards outfitting a school. If you feel, as I do, that the cause of education is worth supporting, please consider visiting her blog's World Vision page here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wipe your feet

There's been a sudden upsurge of traffic on this site, with a number of other musician-bloggers linking here recently. A warm welcome to those of you visiting for the first time!

Thanks are due to Chris Foley, Alex Ross, and particularly A. C. Douglas, for his kind words. The classical blogosphere at its best has some of the most interesting music writing going, and I'm delighted to be a part of the conversation.

I'm leaving this blog unattended to go home and eat turkey, so please act responsibly - place your garbage in the appropriate receptacles, don't leave John Rutter octavos anywhere on the premises, and don't let the pets up on the furniture.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Exciting things elsewhere

The Mozart Effect conclusively disproved; the Shetland pony returns; two music bloggers team up to see if it's humanly possible to create more boring concert programmes than the New York Philharmonic; Cameron Carpenter has too much time on his hands; John Adams criticizes Britten's "stilted" text setting (he's one to talk); Queen Victoria finally has her own comic strip; RVW turns 136 tomorrow.

Friday, October 10, 2008

We plough the fields and scatter

In Canada, this weekend is Thanksgiving. For all of us, the Thanksgiving holiday is an ideal time to reflect upon our lives, and to remember the many wonderful things that we are fortunate enough to enjoy. So, here at TBWCTW, what do we have to be thankful for?
  1. The fact that "ordinary person" Stephen Harper does not (yet) have a majority government;
  2. The fact that the current American financial recession has had only a minor impact north of the border;
  3. Free blogging software, and the leisure to use it for the writing of lists;
  4. The good luck to be born into a peaceful and relatively affluent nation;
  5. Our loyal readership Pierre Boulez
Pierre Boulez?

This may seem an odd thing to be thankful for - isn't he the author of this quotation, familiar from every history of twentieth-century music ever written:
"Anyone who has not experienced -- I do not say understood -- but experienced the necessity of the dodecaphonic language is USELESS. "
A friend of mine places Boulez, with Milton Babbitt and Elliott Carter at the head of the "Unholy Trinity" of mid-century modernists. (I take a certain perverse pleasure in the fact that the initials of the three composers - BBC - are also the initials of the British public broadcaster, which under William Glock was one of the great strongholds of ultra-modernist music in the English-speaking world.) For conservative-minded listeners, Boulez symbolizes everything that is wrong with music today: an ideologically-driven agenda to write in a hypercomplex, atonal style. And we all know what the musical results sound like: arid, dull essays which may be interesting to analyse, but have no possible interest for the listener. This dubious collection of factoids has been elevated practically to the status of conventional wisdom, and with the ascent of minimalism and neo-Romantic composition, no-one feels any reluctance to attack Boulez's music with the most appalling, ignorant criticisms. So, for example, we read the following in a review of a CD of Boulez's piano sonatas:
The Third Sonata exists in five movements, called "formants" in French, "blobs" in English, of which Boulez has completed only two; the other three remain "in progress", we can only hope permanently. . . There's no doubt whatsoever that this sonata represents a huge advance, indeed an epiphany, in Boulez's development as a composer in that it reveals an awareness of the fact that it doesn't matter whether his music is played frontwards, backwards, sideways, upside down, or under water. . . Why bother with these obsolete, emotionally sterile essays? So a '10' for the performance, and a '0' for music of vast intellectual and cultural pretensions, and no substance whatsoever.
It should be obvious that if I submitted an similar review for a CD of music that I don't like ("This performance is terrific, but I still don't like Delius's music. Signed, Osbert") it would be instantly rejected as a biased review, and rightly so. That a similar review is considered acceptable for the music of Boulez shows to what extent polemics against his music have become conventional wisdom. However, some people have taken the time to properly take the measure of Boulez's music: one of my favourite summations of the composer's style comes once again from a CD review:
[M]y image of Boulez differs from that of many others, who picture him as a super-brain, to the exclusion of everything else. I, on the other hand, see him in the long line of French composers besotted with color and the "sensuous form" – the passion for proportion and beauty of line. One confuses Boulez's writings about his music (almost always terrible, unhelpful, and pretentious) with the music itself. I recall in particular one composer-supplied program note to a Cleveland Orchestra performance of Pli selon pli in which he compared the music to Brownian motion. If you found yourself in a kind mood, you'd call it poetry. If you actually know what "Brownian motion" means, you'd more likely call it meadowmuffins. The latter for me. I became so angry at this flummery that the program note actually got in the way of my hearing the music. It took me decades before I came around to this piece, and then only because I'd heard other Boulez works without his critical "help" in the meantime.
This last comment strikes at one of the major problems with contemporary music. The institution of programme notes for concerts has been extremely helpful, allowing the lay listener to learn something about the piece they're about to hear. For historical repertoire, well-written programme notes are now seen as a must for concerts, usually written by the performers themselves. But if you've just commissioned a new work, it seems to be bad form to allow anyone else to write the programme note than the composer, and what you get is either a technical essay filled with incomprehensible jargon or a position statement about the composer's relationship to contemporary composition. (R. Murray Schafer's programme notes are a notable example; downloadable as a package, they combine to form what is essentially the composer's autobiography. Although they are entertaining reading, they are no more useful than Boulez's programme notes in communicating the narrative of the piece to a general audience.) In any case, once a composer has set pen to paper, his programme notes are seen as definitive and are reprinted for every future performance of the piece.

In other words, we have a layer of jargon obscuring the music. No-one would let a writer on Tchaikovsky get away with gibbering about the "Euclidean language of forms" or saying that the music "unfolds like a prism". Before we can expect audiences to identify emotionally with contemporary music, we need to ditch the pseudo-scientific facade and share something of our own impressions of the music - even if it means taking the risk of being maudlin, sentimental or naively pictorial. Audiences may not immediately warm to works like Le marteau sans maitre or Explosante-fixe - to name two impressive Boulez scores - but at least this way they have some chance of experiencing the beautiful colours and exquisite counterpoint in these works with fresh ears.

The first thing they tell you in blog school is not to write paragraphs and paragraphs of unbroken, rambling prose - you need to incorporate a variety of media! So here's a YouTube video of Boulez conducting his Sur Incises.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Semiannual Messiaen-blogging

Photograph of this blogger Iannis Xenakis with Olivier Messiaen

The Messiaen centenary has not figured prominently in the Canadian or American election campaigns, but let it not be said that TBWCTW failed to cover the event! (I have a horror that I will be judged and found wanting by future generations based on my Messiaenic accomplishments this year - "Daddy, what did you do in the Messiaen centenary?" If the centenary had come about five years later in my organ-playing career, I might be able to consider attempting the complete works, but this year it's out of the question, and I feel a sense of lingering inadequacy.) Plenty has been written about Messiaen elsewhere, of course. Alex Ross has a roundup of the major Messiaenical events in North America, and links to the even more thorough Messiaen 2008 website, with its comprehensive listing of Messiaen concerts worldwide throughout the centenary year. The actual date of Messiaen's 100th birthday is December 10th, a day on which Messiaen lovers can look forward to these events, among others:

Salle Pleyel, Paris, France: Turangalila-Symphonie (Christoph Eschenbach)
La Trinite, Paris, France: Anniversary Mass
Royal Holloway College, Surrey, U. K.: Messiaen organ recital (Gillian Weir)
Royal Festival Hall, London, U. K.: Sept Haikai, Couleurs de la Cite Celeste (Pierre Boulez)
University of Glasgow, Scotland: La Nativite du Seigneur (John Butt)
New Caledonia: Quatuor pour le fin de temps

Messiaen lovers are rarely this spoiled for choice - generally, you wait years to catch any of the major orchestral works in live performance. I am particularly delighted to see New Caledonia as a venue for Messiaen performances on the day of his centenary; it seems appropriate, given Messiaen's birdsong-collecting expeditions in New Caledonia, that this tiny Pacific island should offer its own salute to the composer.

I myself hope to spend the anniversary day in Montreal, where the Automne Messiaen festival is proceeding apace. With Messiaen protege Kent Nagano at the helm of the OSM, a thriving organ culture and a number of Messiaen's former pupils now respected Quebecois composers in their own right, it's hard to imagine a better place for a Messiaen festival. The schedule is jaw-dropping - far from being a token gesture in the composer's memory, this festival encompasses practically Messiaen's complete oeuvre - including a complete performance of Saint Francois under Nagano's baton.

As far as I'm concerned, you can never have too much Messiaen, although not everyone agrees - several of my friends plan to be washing their hair for the duration of the Automne Messiaen festival in Montreal. However, for the next few months, we Messiaeniacs are running the world, and I plan to take full advantage. It is worth pointing out, too, that the centenary does not end on December 31st - it begins only on December 10th, the actual anniversary of his birth, and will continue until that date in 2009. Plan concert programmes accordingly.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Found art

Stop losses
Coca Cola

Encona $65
Higher highs
& higher lows
Discovered inside a library copy of James MacMillan's Seven Last Words from the Cross