Getting Schooled by Messiaen

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Why can’t it be Olivier Messiaen’s 100th birthday every year? Celebrating the French composer’s centennial in December 2008 brought an unparalleled survey of his music to arts institutions throughout New York. Rarely performed works were frequent, and frequently performed works were events. When else could you hear Catalogue d’oiseaux and Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus in the same week?

Cue Hammered!, Q2's hour-long showcase of contemporary piano music. This week highlights Messiaen’s immense piano output and includes selections from his Catalogue, Preludes, Etudes de rythme, Vingt regard, the rarely heard Petites esquisses d’oiseaux, and on Friday a culminating performance of his 50-minute masterwork for two pianos, Visions de l’Amen.

Interspersed with Messiaen’s music are piano works by composers impacted by Messiaen's teaching. Just a quick survey of the composers that studied with Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire is astounding not only because their names are anaologous with the central stylistic trends in post-war music, but also because they express -- each in a unique way -- a profound indebtedness to their teacher.

Highlights include Karlheinz Stockhausen’s timeless Klavierstück IX, George Benjamin’s Shadowlines, Pierre Boulez’s hyper-controlled Premiere Sonate, and on Wednesday the rarely heard but tremendously powerful Territoires de l’Oubli by Columbia University professor Tristan Murail.