Dear music lovers, dear friends,
When asked by the organizers of Automne Messiaen to be their honorary patron, I was deeply honored as my relationship with Maître Olivier Messiaen and his music is both a professional and personal history which dates back to the earliest days of my musical formation.
Recognized as one of the most influential composers, professors and musical thinkers in recent times, Messiaen is arguably one of the most important compositional figures of the 20th century and beyond.
As a young composition and piano student in California, I, like most of my colleagues found myself immersed in his music, his pioneering compositional syntax, and his aesthetics. His piano literature was considered essential repertoire for our class and later as a young conductor his entire symphonic works were performed as a complete cycle in my initial two seasons with the Berkeley Symphony.
A few years later, my introduction to Europe came from Maître Messiaen when, after working together on several performances, he invited me to live and study with him and his pianist wife Yvonne Loriod for a year, and then to debut at the Opéra de Paris and collaborate with a future professor, Maestro Seiji Ozawa, to the premiere of his opera Saint-Francois d’Assise.
This pivotal introduction to Paris and European culture allowed me to embark, with his blessing, on a remarkable creative journey of over two decades, one which brought me into contact with leading artistic figures of composition, theatre, ballet, and literature in France and Germany, which together formed a foundation which still represents defining elements of my esthetical reflection.
In December of this year, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and I will give the first performances in Canadian history of Olivier Messiaen’s monumental opera, Saint-François d’Assise, and in doing so we honour his profound legacy and memory today.
I salute the efforts of Louise Bessette, those of Gilles Tremblay as well as their entire team in putting together Automne Messiaen, and I sincerely hope that you will join me in the contemplation and celebration of one of the greatest musical masters of our times.
Letter from Gilles Tremblay
On December 10, 1908, in Avignon, was born Olivier Messiaen, son of Pierre Messiaen, translator of Shakespeare, and of the poetess Cécile Sauvage.
This centenary is more than an anniversary. It is the occasion to celebrate a thought, alive by its modernity, its poetry, its universality, its spirituality celebrating human love (Turangalîla) and divine love (Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus, Trois petites liturgies de la présence divine, his opera Saint-François d’Assise),by its theology, specially in his organ works (from La Nativité du Seigneur to his last great piece for this instrument, Le Livre du Saint-Sacrement) but also in his orchestral works (Couleurs de la Cité céleste, Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum, La Transfiguration… so on and so forth…).
Messiaen was adept at using modes with limited transpositions and non-retrogradable rhythms, which he poetically named « the charms of impossibilities ». To renew his musical language, he started to listen to « his masters, the birds » of which he noted hundreds of bird songs, the vast majority of them used in numerous works. Of those, the Catalogue d’oiseaux, Le Réveil des oiseaux and Oiseaux exotiques, contitute hight summits.
This Automne Messiaen
will provide you with numerous occasions to familiarize yourselves with the main axes of his works. Among others, the project to present the complete Messiaen’s works for organ at the Basilique Notre-dame de Montréal with different organists is an initiative of Pierre Grandmaison, the resident organist. Also, Kent Nagano will conduct the opera Saint-François d’Assise. Let us remember that Maestro Nagano symbollicaly initiated his début as artistic director of the OSM with Éclairs sur l’Au-delà. Not to be left out, the SMCQ with conductor Walter Boudreau, will present Des Canyons aux Étoiles. All musicians and institutions were welcomed to participate in this fall of celebrations. You will be able to find more of the programming on Automne Messiaen’s website.
Finally, Louise Bessette, wonderful interpreter of Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus, was at the origin of this entire project: « I see this fall like a huge celebration », she said to me. “Celebration” is the right word indeed since joy (Regard de l’Esprit de joie, Joie du sang des étoiles), remains, even with the consciousness of the tragedy of times, one of the trademarks of his work.
His teaching touched a vast majority of the best composers of our era. Strict but poetic, with a critical mind, he was never linked to any systematization. This spirit of his can be traced majestically in a posthumous book, shared with the world by his wife, pianist Yvonne Loriod. The title is revealing in itself: Traité de rythme, de couleur, et d’ornithologie. (Éd. Alphonse Leduc, Paris.)
The musician, like the poet, knew to be astonisned. It is to this sense of marvel that Automne Messiaen is inviting to share.
Necessity of our age: from disenchantment to enchantment.
January 4, 2008.