Review: In the Dark Concert Series – Olivier Messiaen


In the Dark Oliver MessiaenWe perceive the world around us through our senses and every day we’re bombarded by external stimuli. It’s easy, in today’s mode of living, to get caught up in the multi-sensory distractions from various media platforms, so to be given the opportunity to focus on one sense is something special. Biblioteek Productions has been pushing the envelope with live music concerts, and their innovative In the Dark series not only exposes audiences to masterful works of western art music, but also puts audiences into a space where their ears are given full preference and heightened awareness of the musical output in (relative) darkness, free from the distraction of visually focused experiences.

This particular concert at the Youngblood Gallery featured the music of Olivier Messiaen, one of the great composers of the twentieth century. His distinctive style and influences make listening to his works in the dark an atmospheric experience where the ear is challenged by some of the dissonances, rhythmic nuances and intriguing dialogues of his compositions. The performers included Coila Enderstein (piano), Danielle Asherson (violin) and Sally Minter (flute). Each one of them gave a sterling performance, bringing life to Messiaen’s works.

Enderstein, calm and reserved, commenced the concert with a selection of Messiaen’s piano preludes. As she sat down at the piano, the light faded away and note after note began to flow effortlessly, like a gentle stream. Each melodic idea and harmonic voice was beautifully executed without sounding mechanical, and her performance directed you through a maze of emotions, some dark, others tranquil.

Messiaen’s compositional talents were greatly explored in his famous flute work Le Merle Noir. Here, Minter displayed impeccable intonation and command of the flute’s various tone colours. The work is founded in birdsong and both Minter and Enderstein developed and maintained a very natural dialogue where one could envisage a bird interacting with its environment.

The last work was Messiaen’s Thème et variations for violin and piano, and here Asherson performed with great focus and control. The long, undulating theme was greatly animated and  a regal atmosphere developed as each variation unfolded. In the darkness, one’s listening clings to each motif, following the emotions portrayed, not knowing where it will lead.

As the last tone faded from the violin and the piano’s final chord was voiced, the dark gallery became fully vibrant with the sounds of a delighted audience. By diminishing sight for a purely audio journey, we get to the core of a musical experience: creative expression and engagement through sound.


Gareth Harvey

In the Dark – Olivier Messiaen was performed at the Youngblood Gallery on 25 November 2015


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