Shulamit Ran: Bach Shards
Bach: Contrapunctus X from The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080
Shulamit Ran: Lyre of Orpheus
Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time
There are a few pieces of music that I must hear as often as possible, and preferably at least once a year. Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time has always been one of those top favorites of mine, not only for the sheer beauty of the composition itself, but also for the incredible story of its genesis.
Therefore, I was thrilled to hear that musicians from Ensemble Connect, Carnegie Hall’s two-year fellowship program for the crème de la crème of the most prestigious music schools in the country, would do the honor in the beautiful and intimate Weill Auditorium.
And because they’re young and adventurous, they’ve added two works by contemporary Israeli-American composer, for the modern component, and one work by Johannes Sebastian Bach for the timeless component. And then again, why not?
Shulamit Ran and Bach may not seem to have a lot in common at first glance, but one does not need to be a classical music major to quickly figure out their common interest in complexity, exactness and accessibility after listening to Bach-Shards seamlessly followed by Contrapunctus X from The Art of Fugue. We were off to a good start.
Back to Shulamit Ran, her Lyre of Orpheus boasts a wide range of unusual sounds, from shimmering to grotesque, as well as a recurring star turn for the cello, of which there are actually two, during its intense 14 minutes. That said, despite its gentle non-conformity, the work is fundamentally melodic and totally engaging, especially when performed by such committed musicians as the ones we had on Tuesday night.
Written when Messiaen was imprisoned in a concentration camp during the Second World War, Quartet for the End of Time is typical Messiaen material in that it contains more or less discernible hints of Eastern rhythms, bird songs and catholic faith. But it is also an unmistakably universal work that, in eight drastically contrasting movements, brilliantly transcends time and space, consequently ensuring it its place in the pantheon of certified masterpieces.
The 50-minute score is famously a constant source of unique moments, giving the individual musicians dazzling opportunities to shine. Accordingly, clarinetist Noémi Sallai delivered a high-flying tour de force in “The abyss of birds”, pianist Christopher Goodpasture and cellist Ari Evan engaged in a stunningly lyrical dialogue during “Praise to the eternity of Jesus”, and violinist Jennifer Liu beautifully provided the well-needed but never taken for granted incandescent light at the end of the tunnel in “The immortality of Jesus”.
Listening to it is always an undisputed pleasure, but I have to say that having it performed in the Weill’s small and acoustically blessed space reinforced even more the otherworldly quality of the experience. “Otherworldly” was in fact the best way to described how listening to Quartet for the End of Time felt on a day that, for me as for many others, unexpectedly turned out to mark the end of an era.