The Examiner: Oxingale presents a stunning context for Messiaen on its latest release

Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time

Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time

Yesterday Oxingale released a new recording with a somewhat intimidating title, Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. This title definitely deserves points (and probably extra credit) for truth in advertising. It refers to Henri Akoka, a Jewish clarinetist who met Messiaen on the way to Stalag VIII-A, the prisoner-of-war camp to which Messiaen was sent when he was captured by the German army in June of 1940. While they were in transit to the camp, Messiaen worked up sketches for a clarinet solo that he showed to Akoka. Those sketches would eventually become the “Abîme des oiseaux” (abyss of birds) movement of his “Quatuor pour la fin du temps.” Once at the camp, Messiaen and Akoka met the violinist Jean le Boulaire and the cellist Étienne Pasquier. Messiaen wrote a short trio for clarinet, violin, and cello from which the full quartet eventually emerged and was first performed at the camp (“outdoors and in the rain,” as its Wikipedia page observes) on January 15, 1941 with Messiaen taking the piano part.

On this new recording the performers are Geoffrey Burleson on piano, David Krakauer on clarinet, Jonathan Crow on violin, and Matt Haimovitz on cello. It is, to say the least, one hell of an interpretation, combining connotations of highly free improvisation (as in “Abîme des oiseaux”) with the rhythmically demanding unison for the entire quartet in the “Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes” (dance of fury, for the seven trumpets), requiring the utmost precision for the required uniformity. However, in the midst of all the technical demands lies some of Messiaen’s most visceral efforts at composition. While this is probably a reflection of the composer’s deeply-felt commitment to the Catholic religion, I have previouslyconsidered the possibility that the entire composition is based on a misreading of the tenth chapter of the Book of Revelation. Thus, it is better to approach this music as a series of reflections of apocalyptic visions without worrying about whether or not those visions can be traced back to the New Testament.

In that respect this new recording establishes a context for Messiaen’s quartet that has more to do with the circumstances surrounding the original performers than with Messiaen’s personal articles of faith. It begins with “AKOKA,” which is an almost entirely improvised composition by Krakauer. This suggests (not necessarily accurately) that at least some of the passages that Messiaen composed may have been inspired by his listening to Akoka, le Boulaire, and Pasquier improvising on their respective instruments. It is thus at least remotely possible that “AKOKA” honors a significant precedent, since much of the music that Alban Berg composed for the violin part in his concerto emerged from his listening to improvisations by the violinist who commissioned the concerto, Louis Krasner.

Adventurous as “AKOKA” may be, as a prelude it is a bit modest in comparison with the postlude, entitled “MEANWHILE….” This is the work of Socalled, which is the name that composer Josh Dolgin assumes when he is working as a “beat architect.” The music (and, yes, I have no problem with calling it “music”) is a collage that mixes live samples of the four Messiaen performers with old radio broadcasts (news reports of the Nazi advances during the Second World War), hip-hop, Jewish liturgical incantation, and the steady beats of “markers of time.” Particularly impressive is when Socalled inserts an incessant club-scene beat behind that homophonic “Danse de la fureur” movement. On the one hand this mix affirms the precision with which that music was being played; but, at the same time, it refracts the apocalyptic denotations of the score through a jazzy lens, making for a provocative distortion of Messiaen’s original conception.

Haimovitz has been quoted as saying that the intention of the full program for this recording was to lift Messiaen’s quartet “out of the polite confines of a normal chamber music performance.” He and his colleagues have succeeded admirably; but it is worth noting that they are not the only ones inspired by this “mission statement.” Here in San Francisco in February of 2011, four of the musicians in Nonsemble 6 (originally formed by students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to prepare a performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s Opus 21 Pierrot Lunaire) performed Messiaen’s quartet in the Red Poppy Art House surrounded by eight paintings (one for each of the quartet’s movements) by Olivia Lam. Just as Messiaen’s score amounts to a highly individual reading of New Testament scripture, so can performances of this music reflect equally individual readings through other uses of auxiliary media.

By: Stephen Smoliar

Read at: The Examiner

Scena Jazz: Changing musics / When Classics meet Jazz

December 3, 2010

Back in the Roaring Twenties, Paul Whiteman wanted to make a decent lady out of jazz by introducing what would go down into history as Symphonic Jazz. Replete with lavish arrangements and a couple of hot soloists to spike the mix, the music came across as something of a shotgun wedding. For better or for worse, a precedent was set and Continue reading

The Republican: Cellist to ‘jazz’ it up for hungry

May 4, 2010

Cellist Matt Haimovitz has an innovative approach to music, and he is bringing his talent to Western Massachusetts to benefit two organizations that help the hungry.

Renowned internationally for his performances aimed at popularizing classical music, Haimovitz will perform with Continue reading

JewishLedger.com: Q & A with Matt Haimovitz – Cellist’s repertoire spans Bach to Hendrix

April 22, 2010

Israeli-born cellist Matt Haimovitz — an  acclaimed virtuoso whose eclectic repertoire spans Bach to Bartók to Jimi Hendrix — will grace the stages of two local venues in May, performing benefit concerts for Rachel’s Table and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. Continue reading

All Music Guide: Figments of Imagination: An Interview with Cellist Matt Haimovitz and Composer Du Yun

November 27, 2009

In a career spanning 25 years, cellist Matt Haimovitz has grown from a winsome lad of 13, making his debut with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, to an institution, noted both as a concert artist and solo recitalist. However, unlike many institutions, Haimovitz has never allowed himself to fossilize, and Continue reading

Voir: Matt Haimovitz et Luna Pearl Woolf Classiques eXcentriques

November 5, 2009

Photo by Martin Laporte

Le violoncelliste Matt Haimovitz et sa partenaire, la compositrice Luna Pearl Woolf, réinventent le rituel du concert avec la nouvelle vocation d’eXcentris. Air frais.

J’ai rencontré Matt Haimovitz pour la première fois en 2006, alors qu’il venait de faire paraître son disque Goulash! (Oxingale Records), sur lequel il joue avec le grand guitariste jazz-rock John McLaughlin, l’ensemble de musique méditerranéenne Constantinople et DJ Olive, entre autres. On trouve sur ce disque du Bartók et du Ligeti, mais aussi du Led Zeppelin Continue reading

Star Tribune: Psst: Avant-cello act at the Dakota

October 27, 2009

Matt Haimovitz is loose in Minneapolis again. The thirtysomething avant-cellist, equally at ease in clubs and concert halls, was last here in January of ’08 for performances with the Minnesota Sinfonia and a gig at the Dakota Jazz Club.

On Wednesday he returns to the Dakota with “Figment,” a solo set and (inevitably) CD that borrow their title from Continue reading

Santa Barbara News-Press: IN CONCERT : Have cello will travel, to clubland

October 2, 2009

Photo by Martin Laporte

In addition to being a highly regarded member of the classical music universe, cellist Matt Haimovitz has made a name for himself by embracing a more street level, DIY approach than his peers.

When it comes to cellist Matt Haimovitz’s workplace, the definition of said place can take many forms. Continue reading