Oberlin Presents 'Music of Messiaen' mini-fest April 21-22

Events to include noon discussion and performance of two mammoth works by the composer.

April 14, 2022

Erich Burnett

Olivier Messiaen

Oberlin Conservatory will celebrate the music of Olivier Messiaen with a forum discussion and a concert featuring expansive pieces written by the revered 20th century French composer and organist, with an intermission Q&A from the Finney Chapel Stage.

On Thursday, April 21, Professor of Conducting Timothy Weiss, Davis S. Boe Associate Professor of Organ Jonathan Moyer, and guest pianist and Messiaen specialist Jason Hardink ’97 will engage in a discussion on the music and influence of Messiaen, who died 30 years ago this month. The free public forum takes place at noon at the Birenbaum Innovation and Performance Space, in the lower level of the Hotel at Oberlin (10 E. College St.).

On Friday, April 22, at 7:30 p.m., the conservatory’s weekly Fridays at Finney series takes a decidedly Messiaenic turn with two large works by the composer created during an especially prolific period in his career between 1969 and 1974. First up is the later of the two pieces—the 90-minute, 12-movement Des Canyons aux Étoiles (“From the Canyons to the Stars”), commissioned by art patron Alice Tully to commemorate the United States bicentennial. Messiaen traveled to the American West to gain inspiration for the piece and he was particularly struck by the “wild and colorful" landscapes and birdsongs of Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks, and Zion Park. This performance features Oberlin's Contemporary Music Ensemble, under the direction of Weiss, with soloist Hardink at the piano.

An extended intermission will include a Q&A opportunity with Weiss, Moyer, and Hardink, followed at 9:30 p.m. by a performance of Messiaen’s 80-minute solo organ work written in 1969, Méditations sur les Mystère de la Sainte Trinité ("Meditations on the Mystery of the Holy Trinity"). It consists of nine untitled meditations and is inspired by the words of St. Thomas Aquinas. For the Méditations, Messiaen developed a new aspect in his musical language which he called the "langage communicable" (communicable language). He created a musical alphabet, grammar, and a series of recurring musical themes to transliterate text into music.

The mini-fest of sorts is the result of the rescheduling of Messiaen’s Des Canyons—which originally was to be performed during the height of the pandemic—and a desire by Moyer to perform Méditations. He suggested to Weiss that they seek out the same week, then agreed to share the same day.

“Where else in the world would you ever have the opportunity to hear these two pieces together?” Moyer says. “Only in Oberlin! Messiaen’s music holds a very special place in the hearts of many musicians, and the chance to perform it for our community is both a great opportunity and a special offering.”


Notice for visitors driving to campus: Oberlin’s campus modernization program to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions and water consumption will cause some temporary road closures and disruptions to parking access throughout campus. You can stay up to date at the Sustainable Infrastructure Program website.

Parking in the Finney Chapel lot is limited. Nearby visitor parking is available in the following lots:

· Northwest of the intersection of W. Lorain Street and Woodland Street

· Behind Bosworth Hall (Fairchild Chapel) north of W. Lorain Street, accessible from both W. Lorain Street and N. Main Street

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