Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bach, Messiaen and Cage

Last week, I attended two quite different events: The first one was a complete performance of Bach’s “Art of the Fugue” by various Bostonian pianists. The second one was a presentation of a movie about “The Apparition of the Eternal Church” by Messiaen, afterwards the piece was played and the filmmaker led a discussion with two critiques. Both of these events took place in a church, but they were attended by a completely different audience. In very flat terms, I would call the Bach concert highbrow. Tickets were expensive, I saw mostly old and important looking couples. There were a few piano students whose teachers were playing, and I noticed one bored little boy who didn’t seem to enjoy the concert very much. There was no break in these two hours, and between the pieces one shouldn’t clap. That was said in the beginning.

For me it was a thrilling concert. I’ve never heard the whole work complete with all the two-voice canons, although I made arrangements for some pieces for vibraphone, flute and piano. When I performed these with friends last year, we got very different feedbacks. Some people loved it and found it “very interesting”. Others said we played “nice”, but this work should never be performed in such instrumentation – its spirit would get lost. These people had probably a performance in mind like the one I attended last week.

I think performances like this are very important for the musician and for those people who know the composition – but probably not for someone, who is not very exposed to classical music. But I think even those people would enjoy the “Art of the Fugue” when it is presented in a way that is interesting for them. For example if the work is played only in excerpts and by a jazz trio?

The other event took place at BU. They have organized a little conference about Messiaen and invited the New Yorker violinist and film maker Paul Festa. Last year, he made a movie that shows people listening to Messiaen. That’s all. You see people with headphones for 40 minutes, see them moving their head, their arms, wiping their eyes, hear them talk about the music. But you don’t hear the music till the very end, and still not complete.

I thought this movie was excellent. It was made for everybody, for people with not the slightest idea of Messiaen and for musicians who even played Messiaen before. The reactions of all these people were not so different! Hearing the organ piece afterwards was amazing, you finally heard what you could only imagine during the movie. It is hardly to describe how quite the audience was when the piece was finished. It was a very rare moment, people didn’t feel like clapping at all – so they didn’t, and the silence felt very good. They clapped much later, after the organist came down from the instrument and sat in the audience for a while. Why didn’t come more people? This was something, which everyone would have enjoyed. But the concert was just attended by the conference people and a few students.

PS: I went over some Cage writings. Take some time and read some of his stuff, it's essential! There is one book by him in the library that includes his "Credo" for the future of music! It's just a few pages long.

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