Sunday Music in the Garden Room
SUNDAY MUSIC IN THE GARDEN ROOM
March 11, 2018 at 2 PM
Olivier MESSIAEN QUARTET FOR THE END OF TIME
Eileen Walsh (clarinet), Gillian Smith (violin)
Benjamin Marmen (cello), Simon Docking (piano)
Clarinetist Eileen Walsh has held the position of Second Clarinet and Bass Clarinet with Symphony Nova Scotia since October 2007. Formerly the Associate Principal and E-flat Clarinet with the South Bend Symphony, Eileen earned her Master of Music degree and Performer Diploma from Indiana University in the studio of Eli Eban, and her Bachelor’s Degree at the University of British Columbia in the studio of Wesley Foster.
Eileen’s love of chamber music has led to the co-founding of the Fifth Wind Woodwind quintet and the Jollimore Trio, and most recently to her joining Rhapsody Quintet. Eileen is currently on faculty at Dalhousie and Acadia Universities, and she lives in Halifax with her husband, flutist Jack Chen, and their two young boys. Other pursuits include performing on period instruments, and a two-year term as Associate Instructor of Music Theory at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.
Dr. Gillian Smith enjoys a varied performance career which has included collaborations in chamber music performance with members of the Acadia University School of Music, the Dalhousie Department of Music, the Yale School of Music, the Juilliard School of Music, the Indiana University School of Music, and the University of Minnesota. She can be heard on “Live Wired”, a CD of contemporary Canadian chamber music recorded with members of the Acadia New Music Society. She has also recently recorded another CD with the Acadia New Music Society, “In Sonorous Falling Tones”, featuring compositions by Acadia University professor Derek Charke, released in winter/spring 2016-17. Gillian Smith has performed extensively in concerts, recordings, and broadcasts with Symphony Nova Scotia, the Winnipeg Symphony, and the Minnesota Orchestra.
A passionate and committed teacher, Gillian Smith is Instructor of violin and viola at the Acadia School of Music. She also serves as Head of the Upper Strings department at the Maritime Conservatory, and teaches violin, viola, and chamber music at the Conservatory. She is a coach with the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra and has been a member of the summer faculty at the Acadia School of Music.
Gillian Smith received a Bachelor of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music, where she studied with Peter Salaff and Syoko Aki, a Master of Music degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she was a student of Camilla Wicks, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Minnesota, where she studied with Jorja Fleezanis. She has also worked closely in summer studies with noted performers and pedagogues Kathleen Winkler and Roland and Almita Vamos.
Mooring in Halifax in 2010 to enroll at Dalhousie University, Benjamin Marmen and his cello have since sought to become dynamic contributors to the city’s musical life.
A small-town boy out of Grand Bay-Westfield, NB, Benjamin began cello lessons at age seven with Sonja Adams in Saint John. Throughout high school he performed with Symphony New Brunswick as a substitute, with the Early Music Studio in Saint John, and also with provincial and national youth orchestras.
In summer programs such as Le Domaine Forget, Scotia Festival, and the National Arts Centre’s prestigious Young Artist Program, Benjamin has received instruction from acclaimed cellists such as Lynn Harrell, Philippe Muller, Hans Jørgen Jensen, Denise Djokic, Paul Marleyn, Blair Lofgren, and Thomas Wiebe. However, his most cherished mentorship has come from Shimon Walt, under whom Benjamin recently completed his Bachelor of Music.
During his studies, Benjamin appeared on stage with various ensembles –Scotia Festival’s “Chamber Players,” his sixteen-stringed clique known as Quartet LaCorde, and Symphony Nova Scotia recently awarded him the position of section cello. He has also performed as a soloist with two of local orchestras, Chebucto Symphony Orchestra and Nova Sinfonia, and was one of the winners of the NS Youth Orchestra’s 2014 Concerto Competition. Benjamin has performed throughout Nova Scotia, notably as a guest artist in Mahone Bay’s Music at Three Churches, in Tatamagouche in Bonnyman House Tearoom’s concert series, as well as in New Brunswick as part of the Musique à l’église historique de Barachois.
Away from the classical stage, Benjamin has taken part in a variety of musical ventures, such as taking to the stage with Natalie MacMaster and her band at the 2013 ECMAs, as well as performing and recording with various local artists, such as guitarist Maxim Cormier, winner of a 2013 NS Music Award, and the popular singer-songwriter Mo Kenney. He has played on film soundtracks by local composers Blain Morris and Josh Cruddas, as well as in a short film by Halifax director Dillon Garland.
Through his interest in new music and improvisation, and thanks to suddenlyLISTEN and the Upstream Music Association, he was involved in improvised concerts by Montreal’s Musique Actuelle, played in workshops with composers and improvisers such as Danielle Palardy Roger, Jean Derome, and Joëlle Léandre, and also appeared as a soloist in Halifax’s Open Waters Festival.
Australian-born pianist Simon Docking has performed both as a soloist and chamber musician throughout North America and beyond.
Simon has appeared as a soloist for Toronto’s Soundstreams, the Winnipeg New Music Festival, the Scotia Festival of Music, Australia’s Aurora Festival, the new music group Stroma in New Zealand, the MATA Festival in New York, and with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, the Toronto Philharmonia and the Toronto Wind Orchestra. His 2008 performance of Messiaen’s epic cycle Catalogue d’Oiseaux at the Scotia Festival was described in the Chronicle Herald as “Herculean…a tour de force”.
Simon has often been heard on CBC Radio Two’s Two New Hours, The Signal, and Concerts on Demand. Internationally his performances have been broadcast on ABC Classic FM (Australia), Swedish Radio, and Radio New Zealand.
Active as a chamber musician, Simon has been a founding member of several ensembles, including the Toronto-based group Toca Loca, with pianist Gregory Oh and percussionist Aiyun Huang. Commissioning works from many Canadian composers, Toca Loca has been presented by nearly every new music series in Canada from St John’s to Vancouver, as well as appearances in New York, California and Berlin. They have released two CDs: P*P (2009) and SHED (2010)
Simon studied in Australia with Ransford Elsley, and holds a doctorate in piano performance from SUNY Stony Brook, where he worked with Gilbert Kalish, and upon graduation was awarded New York State’s Thayer Fellowship for the Arts. In October 2011 Simon received an Established Artist Recognition Award from the province of Nova Scotia.
Revelations: Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time
by Alex Ross
The New Yorker, March 22, 2004.
The most ethereally beautiful music of the twentieth century was first heard on a brutally cold January night in 1941, at the Stalag VIIIA prisoner-of-war camp, in Görlitz, Germany. The composer was Olivier Messiaen, the work “Quartet for the End of Time.” Messiaen wrote most of it after being captured as a French soldier during the German invasion of 1940. The première took place in an unheated space in Barrack 27. A fellow-inmate drew up a program in Art Nouveau style, to which an official stamp was affixed: “Stalag VIIIA 49 geprüft [approved].” Sitting in the front row—and shivering along with the prisoners—were the German officers of the camp.
The title does not exaggerate the ambitions of the piece. An inscription in the score supplies a catastrophic image from the Book of Revelation: “In homage to the Angel of the Apocalypse, who lifts his hand toward heaven, saying, ‘There shall be time no longer.’” It is, however, the gentlest apocalypse imaginable. The “seven trumpets” and other signs of doom aren’t roaring sound-masses, as in Berlioz’s Requiem or Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony, but fiercely elegant dances, whose rhythms swing along in intricate patterns without ever obeying a regular beat. In the midst of these Second Coming jam sessions are episodes of transfixing serenity—in particular, two “Louanges,” or songs of praise. Each has a drawn-out string melody over pulsing piano chords; each builds toward a luminous climax and then vanishes into silence. The first is marked “infinitely slow”; the second, “tender, ecstatic.” Beyond that, words fail.
Last week, the Met Chamber Ensemble, an all-star group from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, played the Quartet at Carnegie’s Weill Hall. I arrived with some mighty spiritual sounds ringing in my head; earlier that afternoon, at Lincoln Center, Philippe Herreweghe and assorted Franco-Belgian forces had presented Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis,” and the same conductor had led Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” two nights before. Messiaen’s quiet answer to the ultimate questions of fear and faith stayed with me the longest, not because he was a greater composer than Bach or Beethoven but because his reply came out of an all-too-modern landscape of legislated inhumanity. In the face of hate, this honestly Christian man did not ask, “Why, O Lord?” He said, “I love you.”
The clarinetist Rebecca Rischin has written a captivating book entitled “For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet.” Her research dispels several long-cherished myths about the 1941 première. As Messiaen told the story, he and three friends performed under the most trying circumstances—using dilapidated instruments, including a three-stringed cello—and won the hearts of five thousand hardened soldiers. In fact, the instruments, while inferior, were adequate to the task, and the crowd was more like three hundred. In Rischin’s telling, the Quartet is less a triumph of individual genius and more a collective creation. Messiaen wrote every note, certainly, but the music would never have existed without the collaboration of the prisoners—and guards—of Stalag VIIIA.
Rischin lovingly brings to life the other musicians—Étienne Pasquier, cellist; Henri Akoka, clarinettist; and Jean Le Boulaire, violinist—who played with Messiaen, the pianist at the première. You can sense something of their personalities in the instrumental parts of the Quartet. Pasquier was a wry, gentle man who might have had a major solo career if he had desired one. Akoka, as vibrant and unpredictable as the Quartet’s long clarinet solo, “Abyss of the Birds,” was an Algerian-born Jew who survived the war through blind luck and mad courage. He tried several times to escape, and, in April, 1941, he succeeded: while being transferred from one camp to another by train, he jumped from the top of a fast-moving cattle car, with his clarinet under his arm. Le Boulaire, moody and withdrawn, later abandoned the violin for acting. He took the name Jean Lanier and appeared in New Wave films such as “The Soft Skin” and “Last Year at Marienbad.” When Rischin interviewed him, she perceived him to be a bitter, unhappy man, but at the mention of Messiaen’s Quartet his eyes brightened. “It’s a jewel that’s mine and that will never belong to anyone else,” he said.
Then, there was the quasi-angelic figure of Karl-Albert Brüll, a music-loving guard at Stalag VIIIA. Excited by the presence of a significant composer, Brüll gave Messiaen pencils, erasers, and music paper, and had the composer stationed in an empty barrack so that he could work undisturbed. A guard stood at the door to turn away intruders. After the première, Brüll arranged for Messiaen’s rapid return to France, conspiring in the forging of documents. A German patriot with anti-Nazi tendencies, he kept a sympathetic watch over Jewish prisoners, repeatedly advising them not to try to escape, because they would be safer in Stalag VIIIA than in Vichy France.
Several decades later, Brüll came to Paris and rang at Messiaen’s door. For reasons that remain obscure, Messiaen declined to see him. Perhaps he didn’t remember who Brüll was; perhaps he was unable to confront this apparition from the past. He eventually tried to correct his mistake, and sent a message to the man who had made his masterpiece possible. But it was too late: Brüll had died, after being run over by a car.
"There shall be time no longer.” How did Messiaen understand this eerie phrase? First, it had for him a precise musical meaning. By 1941, this composer no longer wanted to hear time being beaten out by a drum—one, two, three, four; he had had enough of that in the war. Instead, he devised rhythms that expanded, contracted, stopped in their tracks, and rolled back in symmetrical patterns. Such music is heavenly to analyze but devilishly difficult to play. The Met Chamber Ensemble—Nick Eanet, violinist; Rafael Figueroa, cellist; Ricardo Morales, clarinettist; and, in a guest appearance, the veteran new-music pianist Christopher Oldfather—worked at the highest level. What they lacked was the total unanimity that makes a great performance of the Quartet seem like a mind-reading séance. (The group Tashi achieved this in an as yet unsurpassed recording, on the RCA label.) Still, the Met musicians were a joy to hear, not only in the Messiaen but also in pieces by Mozart, Debussy, Webern, and Berg, with James Levine joining in on piano.
For Messiaen, the end of time also meant an escape from history, a leap into an invisible paradise. Hence the hypnotically simple E-major chords in the two “Louanges.” The postwar avant-garde composers who studied with Messiaen—Boulez, Stockhausen, Xenakis—wanted to eradicate all traces of the old world, but their teacher was not afraid to look back. In fact, Messiaen based the “Louanges” on two of his prewar compositions—“Oraison,” from a piece titled “Fête des belles eaux,” for six Ondes Martenot, one of the first electronic instruments; and “Diptyque,” a 1930 piece for organ. The scholar Nigel Simeone tells us that “Fête” was written for the Paris Exposition of 1937, one of whose attractions was a “festival of sound, water, and light.” Women in white flowing dresses played the Ondes in conjunction with spectacular fireworks and fountain displays. The opening phrase of the first “Louange” originally accompanied a colossal jet of water.
It is disconcerting to associate the Quartet with Moulin Rouge-style production values. But Messiaen always took joy in skating between the mundane and the sublime. He loved God in terms that were sensual, almost sexual. Human love and divine love were not opposites, as they are for so many close readers of the Bible, but stages in an unbroken progression. One undulating phrase in the final “Louange” is marked “avec amour.” Eanet, the Met’s brilliant young concertmaster, played with the lonely ardor of a forgotten Paganini working in an empty café. This is the music of one who expects paradise not only in a single awesome hereafter but also in the happenstance epiphanies of daily life. In the end, Messiaen’s apocalypse has little to do with history and catastrophe; instead, it records the rebirth of an ordinary soul in the grip of extraordinary emotion. Which is why the Quartet is as overpowering now as it was on that frigid night in 1941.e
2017-18 Concerts yet to come
11-Mar Eileen Walsh, Gillian Smith,
Benjamin Marmen and Simon Docking clarinet, violin, cello and piano
15-Apr Suzie LeBlanc and Simon Docking soprano and piano
6-May Marcel D'Entremont tenor