Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) presents STEVEN OSBORNE in RECITAL at Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music. 23 August.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) presented a one-off concert by Steven Osborne, playing the Olivier Messiaen 1944 composition for piano, VINGT REGARDS SUR L'ENFANT-JESUS.
This concert is the first real highlight of my performance year in 2014 - and, yikes, it is already the end of August! Fingers crossed for the rest of our calendar, eh?
My acquaintance with the work of Olivier Messiaen is, relatively, limited. I have heard some of his work - don't ask me what ! My little knowledge of his work is filtered through an understanding of his vigilant Roman Catholicism and love of Bird Song. VINGT REGARDS SUR L'ENFANT-JESUS is made up of twenty movements for piano, of different lengths, each with a contemplative title: Gaze of the Father; Gaze of the Cross; Gaze of the Spirit of Joy; Gaze of the Prophets; Gaze of the Church etc. They are usually played in groups of five with a short rest between each. Mr Osborne played all with no break at all - a muscular, an Herculean performance, indeed.
This solo performance began at 7.30pm and was completed almost two an a quarter hours later. It is, measurably, a long 'time'. However, I must confess that experientially this 'time' in the Verbrugghen Hall with Messiaen and Osborne flew by as "... a full and interesting content can put wings to the hours...", giving one the observational opportunity to sense all the changes in the music in the midst of its duration, of 'time' both as flowing and persisting, and of recurrence in continuity. The tensions of potential, and kinetic stillness, and pause. Of rushing, rattling pell mells of calamitous recklessness. Of crashing and concussed noises reverberating the instrument as if it was possessed of an orchestral spectrum. Of fading crescendos to nothings of nothingnesses. Of delicate trills and notes. Of all the musical variations, that produced a kind of awesomeness - AWE - that was unique, odd, powerful, disconcerting, challenging, mesmerising, and inspiring. It was Inspired. I was inspired.
In my ignorant reveries, during this concert, because of my small knowledge of the history of music, or the theories of music, or the innovations of music, and Olivier Messiaen's place in it, my 'journey' with Messiaen and Osborne was, instead, imaginatively sprung and transported, entirely from my pre-noting of the year of composition.
Noting that it was in the time of Nazi occupation, in Vichy Paris, and that Messiaen had been freed from a prisoner-of-war camp, in May 1941, and shortly after repatriation, started teaching at the Paris Conservatoire, where one of his first students was a brilliant 17-year old pianist, Yvonne Loriod - Ms Loriod was to become a leading exponent of his music, the first to play this work (and his second wife -1961). The Allies invaded France in April, 1944. Paris was liberated in the summer of 1944. VINGT REGARDS SUR L'ENFANT-JESUS was composed rapidly between March and September, 1944 - the spring and summer of 1944 - as the allies moved forward to the city.
So, whilst listening, I became engaged with the dimensions of the piano sounds - truly piano and forte - and conjured the realities of a war zone, of the times of battle noise and catastrophe, of fear and confrontation with death, that was contrasted with the times of stillness, pregnant tensions, and the gentle, pleasing optimisms made, perhaps, by nature's fauna - birds - re-claimings of the aural spaces in the in-between respites from the human violent collisions. The sounds created for me, vivid cinematic images of the realities of the times of the composition, with hardly a "gaze" of religious contemplation of a God and the wonder of that invention, but rather of the stupidities and terrors of animal man. (The Middle East and the Ukraine were raised in my imaginative mixture!) Interestingly, I later read that Messiaen was an experiencer of synasthesia - i.e. perceptions of colours when he heard certain musical chords - for the images I conjured were in colours, not in the more familiar black and white documentary format! I am not usually, a 'synasthetic'. (I, too, heard echoes of Debussy, suggestions of remembered Shostakovich, and the jazz rhythms of say, Gershwin - I recalled music by Toru Takemitsu, in my CD collection).
The performance by Steven Osborne was one of muscular athleticism and control, mentally focused laser-like in its pursuit of accuracies and feeling. Breathtaking technique harnessing explosive passions - big and little. The sheer physical demonstrations of the usage of the whole of his body (and spirit) were enthralling and majestically daunting to watch, a theatrical tour de force. The hypnotic performance energies and technique displays - shoulders, arms, hands and fingers/ legs, feet (on pedals) - combined with my imaginative cinematic imagery made for a night where time was intensely experienced with welts and caresses of sound, juxtaposed with silences, and was fleeted away into a kind of loss of a time perspective. I don't believe that I have ever listened so well before, for so long a measurable time.
I was truly startled that I had been transported away, for over 2 hours, from the concert hall. In the pause at the end of the music, the sound of outdoor, outside, fireworks penetrated the acoustics of this auditorium and my consciousness. It was those sounds that brought me back to my reality: sitting in a seat in the Verbrugghen Hall, in Sydney.
The ACO's presentation of Steven Osborne in Recital, playing VINGT REGARDS DE L'ENFANT-JESUS, has become one of the treasured gifts of my theatre going.
My only depression, for the night, was to look around at the conclusion of the concert and be forced to ask: Why was the Verbrugghen Hall not bursting at the seams with audience? It was Sydney, I guessed, as I moved back into the foyer of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and I supposed they were out watching the free fireworks at Darling Harbour, or something. Football? TV? Go figure. There has to be more music lovers, lovers of exceptional experiences, than us few in the Verbrugghen Hall, in Sydney, does there not? Sadly, it seemed not.
(P.S. I must acknowledge the page turner of the music - whoever she is - and her focused contribution to the choreography of my experience - it would be remiss of me not to do so, for in my joyful recall, she is there).