Clarinetist Jonathan Cohen joins the celebrated NZTrio for a meditative journey through one of Messiaen’s earliest masterwork and the perennial Beethoven Gassenhauer Trio.
To set the stage alight, Jonathan Cohen accompanies NZTrio as a third-generation clarinetist. A past student of Juilliard, Cohen is now Principal Clarinet with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Performing live solos around the world, Cohen sparks joy and creativity in the hearts of every audience. Where the soul cannot reach, music speaks; Cohen’s talents extend beyond the woodwind for a truly unforgettable experience.
Faith, certainty, transcendence, and nature help form connections between the three works: Beethoven’s ebullient Gassenhauer Trio, Ross Harris’s fragmentary and expectant There may be light, and Messiaen’s numinous Quatuor pour la fin du temps.
These pieces could scarcely have been composed in more different circumstances. Beethoven (1770–1827), as a young and confident virtuoso in his twenties, demonstrated Witz (humorous wit) and other-worldly sublimity with his Trio in B flat major. In so doing, he provided the musicians of Vienna with a work that would delight and challenge them in equal measure. At the outset of his career, Beethoven may have felt that all of Europe was his oyster, never anticipating the despair that he would experience a few years later.
Quatuor pour la fin du temps is a work composed in less congenial circumstances. Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992) was serving in the French military as a medical auxiliary near Verdun, where he connected with two exceptional musicians from Paris – cellist Etienne Pasquier and clarinetist Henri Akoka, both working in a military orchestra – and conceived of a work that expressed his profound faith and the unfathomable mysteries of Revelation. Captured by the German army in a French forest, the three very different men found themselves in a Silesian POW camp, where the Quartuor was completed and premiered in circumstances of material deprivation, and fears for the future of art and Europe.
The cataclysm of World War II changed Europe and the world, but music survived, and around 75 years later, Chamber Music New Zealand commissioned Ross Harris (1945–) to write a piece for the NZ Trio as a companion for Messiaen’s Quartuor. The result, There may be light, is a work as otherworldly as Messiaen’s, and likewise considers time. However, while Messiaen’s spirituality convinced him that – as promised in Revelation – time and waiting would cease to exist, the fragmentary melodies of Harris’s quartet explore the uncertainty of waiting for something undefined, unsought, and unexpected.