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Performed by King, Graves, Williams-Calhoun and Simon

Jennifer KingFor classical music aficionados, the UPEI Department of Music’s Clarinet Spectrum Series will present one of the seminal avant garde works of the 20th century—Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time”—on September 8 at 8 pm at the Dr. Steel Recital Hall, UPEI, Charlottetown. 

Jennifer King, among the most sought after collaborative pianists in the Maritimes, will join Islanders Karen Graves, violin, Natalie Williams Calhoun, cello, and Karem J. Simon, clarinet, in the presentation of this monumental masterpiece. The evening will proceed with a brief introduction of the work followed by the performance of this fifty-minute piece in its entirety. Admission may be acquired at the door.

Organizers have provided a description of the work that has been written by Alex Ross, music critic of the NY Times. The following is an excerpt from that description:

The most ethereally beautiful music of the twentieth century was first heard on a brutally cold January night in 1941, at the Stalag VIIIA prisoner-of-war camp, in Görlitz, Germany. The composer was Olivier Messiaen, the work “Quartet for the End of Time.” Messiaen wrote most of it after being captured as a French soldier during the German invasion of 1940. The première took place in an unheated space in Barrack 27. Sitting in the front row—and shivering along with the prisoners—were the German officers of the camp.

The title does not exaggerate the ambitions of the piece. An inscription in the score supplies a catastrophic image from the Book of Revelation: “In homage to the Angel of the Apocalypse, who lifts his hand toward heaven, saying, ‘There shall be time no longer.’” It is, however, the gentlest apocalypse imaginable. The “seven trumpets” and other signs of doom aren’t roaring sound-masses, as in Berlioz’s Requiem or Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony, but fiercely elegant dances, whose rhythms swing along in intricate patterns without ever obeying a regular beat. In the midst of these Second Coming jam sessions are episodes of transfixing serenity—in particular, two “Louanges,” or songs of praise. Each has a drawn-out string melody over pulsing piano chords; each builds toward a luminous climax and then vanishes into silence. The first is marked “infinitely slow”; the second, “tender, ecstatic.” Beyond that, words fail.

Messiaen’s quiet answer to the ultimate questions of fear and faith stayed with me the longest, not because he was a greater composer than Bach or Beethoven but because his reply came out of an all-too-modern landscape of legislated inhumanity. In the face of hate, this honestly Christian man did not ask, ‘Why, O Lord?” He said, “I love you.…’

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