I am delighted to host this wonderfully reflective post by the brilliant young pianist Iyad Sughayer, which touches on the nature of musical engagement:
Guest post by Iyad Sughayer
Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is perhaps one of his most celebrated works. Written during his time as a war prisoner at the Nazi Stalag VIII-A camp after the German invasion of France, it is the most intense religiously inspired work I have ever come across.
Despite coming from a Muslim background, having grown up in Jordan, I was still able to understand the strong Catholic Liturgy behind the work. Indeed Messiaen’s Catholic beliefs are clearly and beautifully portrayed throughout the work.
The first time I heard the Quartet in concert was a few years ago at the Chetham’s Summer School in Manchester. It was an inspired performance played by Kathryn Page, Ben Holland, Rod Skipp and Fiona Cross. I remember admiring the playing but finding absolutely no emotional connection with the piece. Murray McLachlan, my piano teacher, asked me what I thought of the piece; so I told him my honest opinion.
Puzzled yet understanding, he encouraged me to listen to it again and give it another chance. I didn’t.
A few months ago, I received an invitation to perform the quartet with the principals of the Manchester Camerata as part of an exciting new series of concerts. I was delighted and honoured to have been invited but slightly concerned about their choice of the Messiaen. Having heard the Camerata on many occasions during my 8 years of study in Manchester and performed Mozart’s K. 491 with them in the finals of the Manchester International Concerto Competition, I couldn’t contain my excitement at working again with such amazing musicians.
Naturally, I told my all my friends about the concert! I found it interesting that all of them expressed their love for the piece. However I was still not convinced, although determined to learn the work for this wonderful opportunity. My repertoire choices in the past had been very ‘conservative’ and Messiaen’s was a language that I had always found somewhat alien.
So, I began my journey of tackling the quartet and almost forcing myself to like it, or at least enjoy working on it. At the start, I found the two solo violin and cello movements the most tolerable. So I learnt them first and after a short while found myself humming the melodies on my walk home from College.
Whilst listening on my phone I always skipped the third movement where the Clarinet plays unaccompanied. One day, purely out of curiosity, I decided to listen to it. I will never forget how I was stunned and so deeply moved by the music. I found myself rushing to college to learn and practise the other movements. I spent hours experiencing the transcendental beauty of the music. Leaning on chords and replaying some bars over and over again, the music became less complicated and I started seeing genius uses of patterns and musical ideas.
This has been one of the most eye opening experiences for me. For the last week I have been listening non-stop to his other works and it is safe to say that I am officially a Messiaen convert!
This raised a very big question in my head; how much music is out there that I previously dismissed or ignored simply because I did not understand it?
How many other great composers have I avoided? Is it this particular work that has unlocked the door into the Messiaen sound world or am I growing up as a musician and becoming more open? How many other pianists have been on the same journey as me?
I look extremely forward to performing this magnificent work along side Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross on the 2nd of May in Manchester Cathedral.
UPCLOSE—THE NEXT GENERATION
Tuesday 2 May, 7.30pm, Manchester Cathedral.
Haydn: Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross
Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time
Iyar Sughayer: Piano/Lead Artist
Manchester Camerata Principal Musicians