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David A. Hoekema

A Messiaenic Vision

Celebrating the centenary of composer Olivier Messiaen.

Every two years the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival brings dozens of outstanding performers to West Michigan for solo and ensemble performances, at venues widely dispersed around the festival's Kalamazoo home. In 2008, nearly a hundred events were held in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Zeeland, Battle Creek, St. Joseph, Benton Harbor, and Three Rivers during the festival's three weeks. The spotlight is always on classical music, but there is room for crossover artists such as jazz/pop/classical singer Audra McDonald, and on one evening bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs and pop singer-songwriter Bruce Hornsby shared the stage. An extensive jazz program highlighted piano trios and jazz combos built around piano, keyboard, or organ.

The very last concert of this year's festival was held in Dalton Recital Hall at Western Michigan University on May 13. For this occasion Mitsuko Uchida, one of the giants of her generation, gathered together several younger players whose professional development she has assisted through the Borletti-Buitoni Trust to offer a wide-ranging program of chamber music from the 19th and 20th century. Welsh pianist Llyr Williams opened with a somber piece in two movements by Liszt, in which the one of the piano's leading pyrotechnicians imagined a Venice funeral procession for his dying friend Richard Wagner.

Then Williams was joined by violinist Soovin Kim and clarinetist Martin Fröst in Bela Bartok's "Contrasts," a virtuoso showpiece written as a commission for Benny Goodman. When the same program was repeated a week later in a recital space at Carnegie Hall, New York Times reviewer Bernard Holland called attention both to the "virtuoso turns" written especially for Goodman and to the "busy survey of Hungarian folk music" that enlivens the piece's three movements. Holland did not even attempt to describe the Messiaen quartet that followed, for, he said, "I have run out of adjectives and images to describe this great piece." [1]

The "Quartet ...

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