On November 6, 2018 at 18.00 a performance of Olivier Messiaen's vocal cycle for soprano and piano Harawi – Song of Love and Death will take place at the National Library of Latvia top floor hall (level 11). The refined and rarely performed gem of vocal chamber music will be interpreted by Marie Elisabeth Seager (mezzo-soprano, France) and Toms Ostrovskis (piano, Latvia). Free entrance.
The oeuvre of the 20th century mystic, ornithologist, philosopher and composer Olivier Messiaen is often considered highbrow, too complicated for casual concertgoers – in his time listeners were surprised, even shocked by his pieces. However, the deeply emotional and communicative musical language ensures the rightful, eternal place of his opuses in the chamber music hall of fame. It is possible that his vocal chamber music pieces are the most intimate and expressive of his creations; their realm is extremely fragile and intricate, capturing in sound the most striking contrasts – the mundane and the eternal, the spiritual and the carnal, life and death.
Messiaen borrowed the title from a musical genre originating in the Andes folklore. The cycle tells the love story of two young Quechua people. Messiaen created both music and verse for Harawi, drawing inspiration from surrealist poetry (oeuvres of Andre Breton, Paul Eluard and Pierre Reverdy, amongst others) and paintings, in particular – from the painting Seeing is Believing by Sir Roland Penrose. The symbols in music and text soar above the constraints of grammar and syntax. Feelings of love and devotion permeate the cycle, often, however, condemned by the inability to communicate and lack of spiritual concord.
Marie Elisabeth Seager comments: "Harawi attracts me with its contrasts – harmony coincides with chaos, utter darkness shines in wonderful colours. The most beautiful love and the most eternal death. Within the space of these contrasts, artists and their audience are free to interpret Messiaen's intentions and to ponder upon love. I think it is the kind of work that you can also enjoy with your eyes closed, experiencing it on almost physical, subconscious level, a little like a Gregorian chant, sung by nuns somewhere deep within convent walls: immersed in the striking sound textures of the piano part and guided by the voice's varied inflexions, one finds one's own meaning of the piece." Toms Ostrovskis adds to this: "This cycle is a true challenge for performers. It is so easy to alienate listeners with the complexities of Messiaen's musical textures, striking symbolisms and sharp contrasts. Is it even possible to convey through sound the majesty of cosmic chaos, darkness of mountain abyss, ray of eternity or ashes of love? I believe that it is very important for the performer to personalize Messiaen's symbols, to inhabit them in both spiritual and emotional sense. After all, the "green dove" and "handful of ash" are abstractions - like brackets, they contain Messiaen’s feelings and experiences. If we learn to own these abstractions, Messiaen's music comes to life, addressing the audience in fundamental and unique voice."
Marie Elisabeth Seager specializes in the 20th century music styles. Above other composers, she favours Richard Wagner and Olivier Messiean. Her collaboration with the docent of the Piano Department of Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music Toms Ostrovskis began back in year 2003, when both artists pursed postgraduate studies at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The performance is supported by the State Culture Capital Foundation, Latvian National Library and Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music.
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