We’ve got an amazing concert for you on Friday 31st: the brilliant young Fournier Trio (violin, cello and piano) are teaming up with super-experienced clarinettist Pete Whyman to play an amazing piece called Quartet For The End Of Time, by Olivier Messiaen. It’s pretty hard to describe, but try magical, intense, luminous, austere, quirky, spiritual, other-worldly and ecstatic for a start. It’s all of those things and more. Plus … you get to hear some beautiful, straightforward and cheerful Schubert, too. Two totally different pieces, both fantastic in their own ways, played by four top, top, top-of-the-range musicians.
I thought people might like to know how this concert came about, so here goes …
The ‘piano trio’ - piano, violin and cello- is one of the classic chamber music combinations: tons of great music has been written for it, and I have to say I really like all the small-group permutations of piano and strings. We had the Gould Trio in 2015, and then a year the explosive Ukrainian pianist Natacha Kudritskaya joined the Brodsky Quartet on stage to play the Brahms Piano Quintet.
I first saw the Fournier Trio at the Shaldon Festival about four years ago and - wow - they’re just brilliant. I saw them twice more when they started appearing at Dartington Summer School and loved them every time.Violinist Sulki Yu is a tigress pouncing on every note, Chiao-Ying Chang possesses all the pianistic power and sensitivity you could ask for, and cellist Pei-Jee Ng has a soaring tone in the big cello tunes which is to die for. I tried to get them for Nourish a few years ago but ultimately the dates didn’t work, so that idea went back up on the shelf, but … it was still in my mind to get them one day, if I could.
Now I do a bit of playing myself - I play baritone sax in jazz composer Mike Westbrook’s 22-strong Uncommon Orchestra - and last September we did a couple of gigs in the south-east. After one of them I got talking to sax player Sarah Dean in the hotel bar - she liked what we’re doing at Nourish and she’d come to a couple of concerts. I asked her for suggestions of things she’d like to see. Had to be small-scale; had to be affordable.Any ideas?
She thought a bit and then said:“how about the Messiaen Quartet For The End Of Time? That would be amazing.”
Now right away I thought she was right: that would be amazing! It’s one of those pieces - magical, ‘iconic’ (to use an over-used word), a piece a lot of people adore - but it’s not exactly mainstream either, so we could feel we were giving our audience quite a special experience. Plus: because it uses just a piano trio and clarinet, it was something we ought to be able to squeeze onto our quite small stage.
Back home in Devon I was thinking this sounded like a great idea. Exciting! I could ask the Fournier Trio if they’d do it. But … we’d also need a really really good clarinettist. And that was when the penny dropped. Because in the Uncommon Orchestra with Sarah and I was a guy called Pete Whyman, and he was some clarinet player. He had a huge track record of playing at the highest level in jazz, classical music, recording sessions, West End shows, you name it. He’d even played as the soloist in a Leonard Bernstein piece … with Bernstein himself conducting the London Symphony Orchestra! And having seen Pete in action I just knew he’d be fantastic.
So I went separately to Pete and to the Fournier - explained the idea and asked if they’d be up for it (bear in mind that Pete and the trio had never met, let alone played together). To my great relief, they said yes, and it went into the diary.
All that remained was to think about what else could go in the programme. Talking to Chiao-Ying, we agreed it should be core classical - probably nineteenth century - something that would provide a stylistic counterweight to the extraordinary Messiaen (maybe a bit of light relief!). And it would be for the piano trio alone.
We came up with Schubert, who wrote two biggish piano trios. Either of them would have fitted in the first half, but Chiao-Ying suggested the earlier of the two - the Bb one. It has a lighter, bouncier character and is quite a bit shorter - for both those reasons it felt perfect.
I love it when a concert moves you through very different musical worlds. Our Brodsky Quartet gig in June was like that, and this will be too. The Schubert is - to a large extent - fizzy, optimistic, positive; your brow won’t be furrowed! Almost 200 years on, it strikes me as music that relates very much to our world and our lives. If you’ve ever felt confident, carefree or in love … I think you will relate to this music: it’s a bright, breezy breath of fresh air.
Then there’s the Messiaen, and here the phrase ‘out of this world’ comes to mind … and in fact (I’ve just been writing the programme notes) it’s so unusual it’s really quite hard to describe. But, well, he was writing about The End Of The World - taking verses from the Book Of Revelations as his inspiration - and he wrote it in a prisoner-of-war camp in the depths of WWII, at which point it might have felt as if the world was ending. So yes, it contains some scary stuff, but then Messiaen - as a very religious man - thought that the end of the world was the beginning of heaven, and therefore the Quartet has some of the most heavenly music you will ever hear.He loved birdsong, so versions of blackbird and nightingale songs keep popping up in the music And: there’s a pair of movements - one for cello and piano, one for violin and piano - which you just have to experience. They are truly remarkable: serene, soaring, ecstatic and seemingly endless melodies which seem to disappear into infinity.
Don’t miss this; it’s going to be something else! Tickets are available now from this website, or in person from Devon Guild of Craftsmen in Bovey Tracey.