Time Regained

messiaen“I am convinced that joy is beyond sorrow, beauty is beyond horror,” wrote Olivier Messiaen, one of the 20th century’s most original and influential composers, from a Nazi prison camp during WWII. At one point, delirious from starvation, Messiaen experienced an ethereally colored “aurora borealis” in the winter storm clouds. This vision led him to compose his most celebrated work, Quatour pour la Fin du Temps (Quartet for the End of Time) for himself and three fellow musicians who had managed to keep their instruments with them in the camp. The work, which explores the end of the world as prophesied in the Book of Revelations, premiered on January 15th, 1941, for hundreds of fellow prisoners and their guards.

On Sunday, March 9, the new chamber ensemble pierrot+plus plays this landmark composition at the Neighborhood Church in Pasadena, in an encore performance of last week’s critically acclaimed concert. Beginning with three love songs from Messiaen’s cycle, “Poemes pour Mi,” written by the composer for his first wife, the program also includes Leonard Bernstein’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, and 7 Romances for Soprano and Piano Trio by Shostakovich.

Messiaen’s signature style synthesized a wide range of influences, from Indian ragas to ancient Greek and Hindu sources to Indonesian gamelan. An ardent ornithologist, he incorporated birdsong into much of his music. Underneath the composer’s complex, abstract music lie many personal and emotional elements, especially his intensely mystical Catholicism. Many of his works amount to personal meditations on the mysteries of his faith.

As a teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, his students included 20th century giants Boulez, Stockhausen, and Xenakis.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Messiaen’s birth. Named for their successful 2007 recording of Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunnaire,” pierrot+plus plans several other tribute concerts during the 2008 centenary.

For more information, contact Gayle Blankenburg. — Penny Orloff

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