Musical performances, just like spiritual moments, can elicit deep emotions and colorful contemplations. When combined, these experiences can seem larger than life itself. On Sunday, October 23 at 4 p.m., soprano Kathleen Roland-Silverstein and pianist Dan Sato present “Music of Olivier Messiaen” as part of the Malmgren concert series at the Hendricks Chapel.
Roland-Silverstein and Sato, both faculty members of the Setnor School of Music, spent more than a year preparing for this program of what they like to call “Messiaen’s greatest hits”.
“This concert could be a first for many to discover his music. It’s a kind of music that’s very intoxicating, like a really strong psychedelic,” Sato says.
French composer and organist Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) is best known for his harmonically rich and complex work that pushed the boundaries of 20th century music. A devout Catholic, his spirituality and fascination with nature were central to almost everything he did.
To introduce Messiaen’s soundscape, the Hendricks Chapel Choir, conducted by José “Peppie” Calvar, will gently open the concert with the sacred motet “O sacrum convivium”. This choral piece, composed in 1937, is one of his earlier works that offers a meditation on spiritual communion with the divine.
For Messiaen, music was not only an acoustic experience but also a visual one. His synesthesia, a condition that connects the senses, caused him to associate sound with color and vice versa. The musical notes were like ribbons and the chords became rainbows. With this imagery, he found ways to interweave it with musical and spiritual concepts from other cultures.
In the play “Harawi: Song of Love and Death”, Sato and Roland-Silverstein explore an ancient Peruvian story of love ending in death. Messiaen composed in French and Quechua, an indigenous language spoken in the Peruvian Andes. “He also used onomatopoeic sounds. One of the songs is called ‘Dondou tchil’, which is supposed to represent the anklets worn by Peruvians,” Roland-Silverstein remarked.
Messiaen’s cosmic scenes are almost supernatural, Sato added. “The scope of time and resonance offers a glimpse or snapshot of what eternity looks like. [His music] requires so much more than we can provide, even just the piano or the human voice.
Still, the challenge is worth taking on. Sato plans to perform excerpts from “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jésus” by Messiaen, one of the most demanding and impressive works in the entire piano repertoire. Messiaen drew inspiration from birdsong, Indian classical music and, most importantly, his faith as he gazed upon the infant Jesus.
“It goes from a lullaby to this really big galactic explosion of dissonance. It’s almost uncomfortable and nightmarish, but it’s that extremism of expression,” Sato says. “You’re just kind of left in a daze. “
After allowing themselves the luxury of immersing themselves in the music of Messiaen, Sato and Roland-Silverstein say this concert will be a great opportunity to share the experience with the community. Anticipating a most memorable musical encounter, Roland-Silverstein said, “I hope people will feel transported.
The Malmgren concert is free and open to the public. Free parking is available in the Quad Lot and the Irving Garage. For more information, visit chapel.syracuse.edu.
Story by Piper Starnes, graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications program at SI Newhouse School of Public Communications