Preview: Messiaen Festival

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11 November 2016, Buzz Cardiff Features

Olivier Messiaen once called his faith ‘the great drama’ of his life. It was the core of his whole existence, the internal reassurance which provided him with the endurance to suffer grief and the atrocities of war, and yet still see the hand of God in all things – the beauty of birds and colour – and then transpose that into music.

His works are vast passionate things; they veer dangerously between dissonant and melodic, and yet retain a transcendence, delicacy and visceral power. It’s ambitious, often disconcerting, and very contemporary, and it is this music that the Royal Welsh College of Music will undertake to perform in November, during a short festival devoted to Messiaen. Over the course of three days, the college will put on five performances and recitals of some of his most innovative works to bring into focus the work and the man.

At the centre of the ambitious event will be a performance of Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jesus. Often cited as Messiaen’s greatest composition, he himself called the piece “the triumph of love and tears of joy – all the passion of our arms around the invisible”. Pianist Cordelia Williams – who devised a year-long series of concerts centred around the composition in 2015 – will return to this work for the performance on Thurs 17 Nov.

The festival will also feature a performance of the Catalogue d’Oiseaux by Peter Hill, of whom Messiaen himself said he was “a passionate admirer of his playing”, presenting an unrivalled opportunity to hear the compositions as Messiaen wished them to be heard. His little birds will flit through, parading their plumage in a performance of Oiseaux Exotique and other excerpts from the Catalogue d’Oiseaux.

The eerie Quartet for the End of Time, which according to legend was composed when Messiaen himself was a prisoner of war and found a broken cello, an old piano, a cellist and violinist, will also be a highlight of the event, before the festival ends on a more peaceful note with a recital including the Trois Melodies and Poemes pour Mi.

Image: WikiCommons

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