Evaluation: The loopy genius of taking part in Messiaen’s 13 bird-inspired piano solos at L.A.’s Audubon Middle

Like most arts teams, Piano Spheres obtained by means of a performance-free pandemic the very best it might on Zoom. However after the preliminary video-vérité fascination of peeking into pianists’ residing or observe rooms, a Zoom gloom set in as on-line recitals, be they beginner or skilled, proliferated from seemingly all over the place.

What’s the choice? Delicate pianos don’t like the good outside, that’s for the birds. So be it. The ever-venturesome piano sequence’ rowdy return to stay concert events Sunday afternoon occurred to be at — the place else? — Audubon Middle at Debs Park, a stopover level, simply off our Pasadena Freeway, for migratory birds on their Pacific Flyway.

A 9-foot, broad-beaked black Steinway grand landed on the middle’s patio. The event was a uncommon full efficiency of Messiaen’s obsessive “Catalogue d’Oiseaux,” 13 arresting virtuosic solo items suffused with the calls of dozens of birds that the composer heard whereas birding within the French countryside through the mid-Nineteen Fifties.

Tables and folding chairs had been arrange on the garden, with its beautiful pond within the rear. Birds had been within the minority, for essentially the most half gracefully gliding over a distant hill doubtless out of vary for the sensitively amplified piano. One set free an occasional squawk.

Though single-minded birder pianists with method to burn (a particularly small species) do try the entire manic “Catalogue,” which lasts shut to 3 hours in efficiency, Piano Spheres realistically break up the duties amongst 13 soloists. That included the sequence’ core artists Vicki Ray, Mark Robson, Thomas Kotcheff and Sarah Gibson, together with visitor pianists, well-known and newcomers.

An outline of Messiaen’s “Catalogue” makes it sound loopy, which, after all, it’s. Every of the actions — they vary from about 5 to half-hour — is called for a particular fowl, however many different kinds make their noisy appearances as secondary characters. The ever-clattering keyboard makes an attempt to imitate their myriad chirps, this fashion and that, producing a startling, exhausting, headache-making, metallic-sounding menagerie that by no means appears to finish and makes zero sense to anybody with out wings.

However that can be the genius of Messiaen’s piano writing. There was no finish to his versatility in turning birdsong into piano track. The evocations come throughout not as translations of 1 type of sound into one other however as listening to birds communicate in astonishing piano accents.

The composer is much less documentarian than poet. He locations his birds on cliffs, at river banks, in punishing arid sunshine and moldy forest darkness. Some actions are in regards to the birds and their interactions. Some are in regards to the passage of time. The large central motion, the one that may final over a half-hour, represents 27 hours within the lifetime of the reed warbler.

Messiaen supplied florid descriptions of the actions, and on this one the reed warbler is the good orator of his native lily pond. Frogs croak, a skylark soars above all in dazzling pianistic glitter, grasshopper warblers rattle as their names counsel, and one reed warbler enters right into a rapturous contrapuntal duet with one other.

These elaborately evocative settings are exactly what makes us discover the birds. The ninth motion, as an illustration, is dedicated to Cetti’s warbler, a cute little brown fowl with a violent name, but one incapable of breaking the spell of a small tributary that’s heard flowing with such wealthy harmonies that it might be the river of affection. All that’s winged, even the grating corn crake, is painted with a mystical birder’s unworldly rose-colored pianistic glasses. All Messiaen’s birds are angels.

People seated on folding chairs outdoors at Audubon Center at Debs Park listen to a pianist.

The viewers gathered at Audubon Middle at Debs Park to listen to 13 pianists play Messiaen’s avian-inspired items.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

The 13 pianists introduced their very own ranges of avian consciousness. Genevieve Feiwen Lee (Alpine chough), Nelson Ojeda Valdés (blue rock thrush), Joanne Pearce Martin (rock thrush) and Nadia Shpachenko (curlew) performed as if peering by means of binoculars, mapping birds, marveling from afar with an ornithologist’s objectivity. Ray (golden oriole), Aron Kallay (tawny owl) and Gibson (buzzard) approached the birds shut up, highlighting their colours and revealing luxuriant feelings aroused by the atmospheric settings.

Kotcheff (black-eared wheatear), Steven Vanhauwaert (woodlark), Danny Holt (short-toed lark) and David Kaplan (black wheatear) trusted their magnificent pianism to carry birds vividly to life. In a quick and livid efficiency, Yevgeniy Milyavskiy was the intense instance of this, bringing an enormous sound to the reed warbler’s large world.

In a category of his personal was Mark Robson (Cetti’s warbler). His was one of many extra modest (the whole lot is related in the case of Messiaen and birds) actions, however he was clearly the important thing determine in the entire undertaking. He had studied in Paris with Messiaen’s spouse, Yvonne Loriod, for whom the “Catalogue” was written. He is among the most illuminating (if the least recognized) of at the moment’s Messiaen pianists.

He gave each fowl in an extravagant menagerie a rapt individuality. You knew the blackcap by the piano improbably impersonating a flute. Messiaen needed the hoopoe to create the impact of a harpsichord combined with a gong, and that’s what it was. Past all that, Robson, in his mere dozen minutes on the keyboard, imbued a complete bird-besotted afternoon with a pervasive temper of aviary wonderment.

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