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

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

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“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

New York Time Out: Opera & Classical – Matt Haimovitz with Du Yun

October 11, 2009

An inventive cellist with an insatiable curiosity, Matt Haimovitz was playing Bach in nightclubs before (Le) Poisson Rouge was a glimmer in anyone’s eye; no wonder he’s gotten into the swim here instantly. Tonight he’s celebrating Continue reading

Figment

Figment

Figment

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A sequel to his 50-State solo cello tour and recording, Anthem, released in 2003, Figment is a return to Haimovitz’s signature solo set, embracing the musical communities of his two home countries, the US and Canada. Inspired by Continue reading