The New York Times: Classical Playlist: Beethoven, Shostakovich, Tigran Mansurian and More

May 15, 2014

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

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

‘AKOKA: REFRAMING OLIVIER MESSIAEN’S QUARTET FOR THE END OF TIME’
David Krakauer, clarinetist; Matt Haimovitz, cellist; Jonathan Crow, violinist; Geoffrey Burleson, pianist; Socalled, electronics
(Oxingale)
This brilliantly inventive recording pays tribute to Henri Akoka, the Algerian-born clarinetist who egged on Messiaen to compose when both were prisoners of war in a German camp during World War II. Framing a vivid rendition of the “Quartet for the End of Time” are two musical flights of fancy, an improvisation by the extraordinary clarinetist David Krakauer, and an electronic remix of the quartet by Socalled. (Fonseca-Wollheim)

Read at: The New York Times

JohnMontanari.com: Album du jour: David Krakauer, Matt Haimovitz, et al., “Akoka”

May 11, 2014
Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time

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

On the cold and rainy night of January 15, 1941, in the unheated Barrack 27 of Stalag VIIIA in Görlitz, Germany, an audience of some 400 prisoners-of-war and guards listened in rapt silence as four musicians, performing on ramshackle instruments, gave the first performance of one of the great chamber works of the 20th century.  While it is doubtful that even the most devoted practitioner of historically-informed performance would want to recreate the premiere of Olivier Messiaen’s “Quatuor pour le fin du temps” (“Quartet for the End of Time”), this amazing backstory adds even further resonance to a work of stunning originality, power and spirit.  (For the full story, Rebecca Rischin’s “For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet” is highly recommended.)

What’s that?  You’ve never heard Messiaen’s Quartet?  Well then, you’re in for an extraordinary musical experience, one which will grow with each hearing.  In eight movements, variously scored for one, two, three or all four instruments, Messiaen combines his favorite preoccupations, such as birdsong, rhythmic and melodic symmetry, synesthesia (e.g., musical rainbows) and fervent, sentimental Catholicism into perhaps this incredibly original composer’s most accessible large-scale work.  Not for nothing has the Quartet appealed over the years to audiences steeped in psychedelia, mysticism, minimalism, new age philosophy, eastern religion and just about every other alternative life- or musical style associated with adventurous youth.

On their splendid, just-released 2008 live concert recording (with violinist Jonathan Crow and pianist Geoffrey Burleson), clarinetist David Krakauer and cellist Matt Haimovitz have framed the Quartet with a works that pay tribute to the remarkable clarinetist of its premiere, an Algerian Jew named Henri Akoka.  As prologue, the four musicians collaborate on a mostly-improvised, electronically-enhanced piece (credited to Krakauer) called “Akoka,” transforming elements of the Messiaen into a Klezmer-ish lament and dance filled with clarinet smears, cello scrapes (much like those Matt Haimovitz employed in his celebrated version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Anthem”), scratchy violin off-beats and strummed piano strings.

For the epilogue, Canadian producer Socalled (Josh Dolgin) “merges live samples of the musicians with old radio broadcasts, hiphop, cantorial singing and markers of time…” into a piece called “MEANWHILE…”  Of all the album’s ten tracks, this will probably age least well, especially its rapped passages.  For the present, it’s a stimulating modern commentary on a great musical work.

But it’s the performance of the Quartet that commends and rewards most of our attention here.  Not that there aren’t excellent alternative versions in the current discography, but this one can take its place with the best of them for both individual and ensemble excellence.  To cite just a few examples:  The quiet central passage of the 2nd movement, “Vocalise, for the Angel Who Announces the End of Time” has rarely been as mesmerizing.  David Krakauer’s superb rendition of the 3rd movement clarinet solo, “Abyss of the Birds,” is filled with personality, subtly reminding us that for all its mellow mellifluousness, the clarinet was also the instrument par excellence of the red light district, the shtetl and the Roma encampment.  And Matt Haimovitz’s modulation of both tone color and vibrato in the sublime 5th movement duo, “Praise to the Eternity of Jesus” are wondrous to hear — artistry of the highest order.

Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is best experienced live — what great work isn’t?  In the meantime, and for keeps, this fine, imaginative CD is highly recommended, and will fit right into your shelf next to your Mahler, your Moby, your Moondog and your Mozart.  At least that’s where it is on my shelf.

By: John Montanari

Read at: JohnMontanari.com

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

The KlezmerShack: David Krakauer’s “Akoka”

March 27, 2014

CD coverAt the beginning of WWII, Olivier Messiaen was in the French army, and was taken prisoner of war. People less philistine than I consider it one of the premier pieces of 20th century music, and it premiered in Stalag 8-A on Jan 15, 1941 with Messiaen on piano, and three other musicians—one of them a Jewish clarinetist, Henri Akoka. There is a stunning description of the circumstances under which the piece was written and premiered in a new novel, Orfeo by one of my favorite authors, Richard Price. It may be the best section, and one that best illuminates what Powers is trying to say with the novel. (The one Jewish music connection to this piece, perhaps? Partly as a result of being part of that quartet of musicians, with missteps and near-transports along the way, Henri Akoka survived the war.)

I have been listing to an old RCA recording of “The Quartet for the End of Time” for the last couple of months, ever since reading about it in the novel. I had purchased the recording after reading Alex Ross’ incredible book on 20th century music, All the rest is noise,” a few years ago, and quite frankly, hadn’t gotten into it. That has changed.

Now, things have changed again. David Krakauer has released a new recording of the quartet, framed by short pieces composed by himself (“Akoka”) and digital re-mix wizard, SoCalled (“Meanwhile….”). It includes Krakauer on clarinet, SoCalled on electronics, Matt Haimovitz on cello, Jonathan Crow on violin, and Geoffrey Burleson on piano. It is stunning. It will officially release on April 1, and if you are at all interested in amazing once-avant garde music, this is a must-purchase. It has replaced (mostly) my older recording. As intended, this is the “Quartet for the end of time” for our time.

Read at: The KlezmerShack

By: Ari Davidow

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

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

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

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

Available now!
iTunes-Logo75

 

“A shatteringly beautiful performance of Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Quartet for the End of Time.’”

-The Jewish Week

In this reframing of Olivier Messiaen’s masterpiece Quartet for the End of Time, clarinetist David Krakauer — praised internationally for his ability to play in a myriad of music genres with “prodigious chops” (The New Yorker) and “soulfulness and electrifying showiness” (The New York Times) — and musical pioneer cellist Matt Haimovitz — described as “one of the leading cellists of his generation” (The New York Times) and “intensely sensitive and perfectly poised (Gramophone Magazine) — have created a recording and live concert experience of great emotional power. Continue reading

The Jewish Week: Hearing A Jewish Downbeat

February 19, 2014

Cellist Matt Haimovitz’s Shoah-tinged ‘Akoka.’

When he was 16, Israeli-born cellist Matt Haimovitz was invited to play Richard Strauss’ “Don Quixote” with the Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of Herbert von Karajan. Berlin? Strauss, a darling of the Nazi regime? Von Karajan, who was a member of the Nazi party? But a career breakthrough of immense proportions.

He was pondering the offer when his grandfather extended another invitation.

“My grandfather took me to Yad Vashem,” he recalled in a telephone interview last week. “The experience was so powerful that I turned them down. It was a very difficult decision. It was a pinnacle on a professional level, but I couldn’t do that to my grandparents.”

Haimovitz’s career survived. He made the difficult transition from prodigy to adult professional by gradually moving away from the standard cello repertoire and expanding his horizons to take in new music and the challenges of experimentation. And he has paid back his debt to his grandparents handsomely with his new album, “Akoka,” a stunning combination of the old and the new that evokes the Shoah in an elegant way.

The centerpiece of the CD is a shatteringly beautiful performance of Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time,” a deeply spiritual piece of music written while Messiaen was a prisoner in a German POW camp. The clarinetist for whom he wrote the piece was a fellow prisoner, an Algerian Jew named Henri Akoka. When a sympathetic camp guard arranged for Messiaen and the other musicians to be sent back to France, Akoka’s Jewish features led to his being kept in the POW camp. He eventually escaped, jumping from a train with his clarinet under his arm.

Haimovitz has teamed with David Krakauer and Socalled to create two pieces in response to the Messiaen, a composition by Krakauer bearing Akoka’s name, and a mash-up by Socalled that combines the Messiaen with the beat-maker’s usual witty collection of sound bites, musical samples and frisky beats. The result is compelling listening, particularly when you know the story behind the compositions.

“It’s always powerful to play the Messiaen,” Haimovitz said. “To think of the circumstances, that makes it an even more spiritual experience. It’s an extraordinary statement that under those conditions you could come up with something so beautiful and transcendent. It lifts the spirit.”

By: George Robinson
Read at: The Jewish Week

The Canadian Jewish News: Composer puts stories’ emotions to music

September 25, 2013

If you close your eyes and listen to the music, you can picture the onscreen action: the young mother unnerved by the sudden departure of her baby’s nanny, the wily tramp finding the key under the mat and infiltrating the isolated house, the husband working to the ticking clock of office deadlines suddenly thrown into a different race against time when his wife’s frantic phone call to him is cut off, and the chase to the rescue in a stolen car pursued by the law.

Composer Luna Pearl Woolf conjures the pictures in your mind’s eye with the orchestral-sounding richness of eight cellos, a full complement of drums and a glockenspiel. Continue reading

SFCV: Context Speaks Volumes at Berkeley’s Jewish Music Festival

March 6, 2013

bookends-for-the-angel

Vilna Poems / Akoka: The End of Time / In Commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising” read the title sheet of the Jewish Music Festival’s concert at Berkeley Repertory Theatre on Saturday. I didn’t get the connection. Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania. Quatuor pour la Fin du temps is a famous quartet by the French Catholic mystic Olivier Messiaen. So? Continue reading

CityMusic Cleveland: Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation: Cellist Matt Haimovitz goes solo with CityMusic

February 8, 2010

Virtuoso cellist Matt Haimovitz has made a career of bringing classical music to people who don’t hear it much. In the mid-’90s, having played as soloist with major orchestras in venues like Carnegie Hall, the Israeli-born, American-raised musician got frustrated with the narrowness of classical-music culture and the kind of career typically Continue reading

Montreal Mirror: Wine bottles, wedding bells and warrior women

November 5, 2009

Photo by Martin Laporte

The exciting eccentricities of November’s classical music programming at eXcentris

McGill music professor and renowned cellist Matt Haimovitz—who now adds artistic advisor and artist-in-residence at the recently repurposed eXcentris to his CV—has made it his mission to expand the parameters of classical music, what it is and who it’s played for. In that spirit, his latest album, Figment, covers a good part of Continue reading