Hardink Plays Epic Piece
Discussing religion can take a long time, and expressing ideas of religion in music can take even longer. Conservatory graduate Jason Hardink (’98) returned to perform Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus (Twenty Contemplations on the Infant Jesus) by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) in Warner Concert Hall Wednesday night.
Vingt Regards is notorious for its length — it lasts over two hours. As a devout Catholic, religion pervades nearly all of Messiaen’s works, and most exceptions come from his period as a prisoner of war. Ideas relating to the divinity of Jesus were of particular interest to him.
Vingt Regards is summed up best in a comment overheard during intermission: “The ideas [Messiaen] was expressing took three minutes and he did it in fifteen.”
The majority of the work consisted of inspired musical ideas and brilliant methods of playing with those ideas that were then repeated to the point of making them, at best, boring, and at worst, annoying.
A prime example is the movement, “Contemplation of Silence.” It begins with a sweet and charming melody intended to represent, in the composer’s words, the “musics and colors that are the mysteries of Jesus Christ” in the manger. Messiaen then repeats this melody a seemingly endless number of times before spinning it through a series of variations and returning to it again. The movement comes to a satisfying end several times only to interrupt the silence with another repetition of an already monotonous phrase.
Had Messiaen chosen an orchestral medium, he could have rendered these effects in such a way that they would have been powerful and moving, avoiding the triteness they assumed on the keyboard.
“Contemplation of the Church of Love,” the final movement, was perhaps the most grueling. It consisted of numerous repetitions of themes from previous movements, concluding with what at times seemed like an unending repetition of the God theme.
The biggest shame is that Messiaen’s and Hardink’s great passions were put into a work with little effect because of those banal and haphazard coloristic effects. A set of ideas that could have made a fantastic smaller work became a repetitive and inexpressive monolith.
Despite all this, Hardink managed to give a convincing and virtuosic performance. The pianist’s motions seemed graceful and deliberate in the slower sections and furious in the frequent outbursts of speed.
The technical demands created by the composer’s constant use of the full range of the keyboard and breakneck speed seemed nonexistent in Hardink’s skillful hands. His obvious fervor for the work could have convinced even the most apathetic listener that he or she was hearing great music.
After completing his Oberlin studies, Hardink completed his Master of Music in piano performance and Doctor of Musical Arts at Rice University and is currently the Principal Symphony Keyboard/Opera Rehearsal Accompanist at the Utah Symphony and Opera. In addition, he is an advocate of new music and participant in many chamber music festivals around the country. Hardink is scheduled to perform Messiaen’s Vingt Regards at many cities across the United States this season.