Messiaen Impossible

I am writing this from a horse campground, which is A) the kind of thing that only happens to me, and B) probably the only time in your life you will read that sentence.

The past 5 or so months of my life have all been leading up to the past week. I first got the idea to do a Cage recital back in mid-April (the next piano lesson after my last recital, naturally), I spent the summer preparing the program, and the last 2 or so months practicing and buying screws and bolts.

I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I’ve written about this before, but I was deeply moved just to have been a small part of celebrating this man’s work. It was very gratifying to have had such a great turn out for such a crazy event. It was even more gratifying that they really responding and enjoyed the program. I even had a couple of people say how much they enjoyed One! The definite one hit wonder was Mad Rush, coincidentally a piece that John Cage did not write. At least 75% of the people who have talked to me went on and on about how much they loved that piece.

Immediately after my solo recital, I had to switch gears to get ready for the big Cage concert the next monday. I and several professors had been planning this since July and it turned out to be an enormous undertaking. I’ve told several people that it was the most involved and elaborate concert that I’ve ever been a part of. The logistics were a nightmare. (A piece for 12 radios and 24 people in the middle of the program is a crazy thing to do, on multiple levels.) But, it was so worth it. We had an enormous crowd, probably the largest I have ever seen here, and they absolutely ate it up. It was nice to get A) another shot at The Perilous Night, B) to play percussion on stage again, and C) to get to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, all the time being mic-ed and amplified. (I was also very hungry at that point, so bonus.)

All in all, it was so very worth it, but I am so glad to be done with Cage for a while. I’ve been trying to live inside this man’s brain for so long, and I’m ready to move on to the next thing.

Speaking of the next thing: On Sunday, December 2nd, I will be giving another solo recital as part of the First Presbyterian Church’s Advent Recital series. I’m currently trying to figure out what to play, but I know for sure I will be playing some selections from Olivier Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jesus. (More on him later.) Also, I’m starting to look far ahead to next fall for my Senior Recital, which, right now, is looking like it will be a double bill of Phrygian Gates and Beethoven Sonata no. 31, Op. 110. So, I’m apparently a crazy person. Also, I’ll be playing a gig with the Memphis Symphony’s awesome Opus One chamber group next month!

I’ve started to really dig into this Messiaen because it’s hard and probably going to take me the semester to learn. (My “official” school repertoire for this semester is finishing up the Beethoven Op. 110, finishing Bach Partita No. 1, Barber Pas de Deux, and the Premiere Communion movement from the Messiaen Vingt Regards.)

For those of you who don’t know, Olivier Messiaen was this crazy French 20th century composer. He was a Catholic, and was heavily influenced by Christian Mysticism, and his pieces reflect that, both through title and content. “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jesus” translates roughly to 20 gazes, or reflections, on the Infant Jesus. The entire set of 20 pieces, last 2+ hours, and is one of the monuments of the 20th century piano repertoire. He works in these incredibly unique harmonic and rhythmic languages that make me want to gouge my eyes out most of the time. Observe:












That second excerpt (from Regard de l’Étoile) is probably going to be the death of me. It’s one thing for the two hands to be doing something different, but for different parts of your hand to do something so totally different is _hard_. But, as I have found a lot lately, the hardest music to learn is almost always worth it. So, I’m somehow trudging through.

I promise to post pictures soon from my recital (especially the awesome awesome birthday cake my mom had made), but for now, here are the recordings.


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