Olivier Messiaen wrote his piano masterpiece Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus (Twenty Contemplations of the Infant Jesus) in 1944, surrounded by war in occupied Paris, yet the music is suffused with themes of love, colour, passion, silence and faith. ‘Between Heaven and the Clouds: Messiaen 2015’ was a year-long series of events setting Vingt Regards alongside words and images, including specially commissioned poetry and paintings, in order to explore these universal themes and Messiaen’s rich variety of inspiration.
– Commission of twenty poems by award-winning British poet Michael Symmons Roberts responding to the twenty movements of Vingt Regards.
– Commission of a Suite of paintings by British artist Sophie Hacker in response to the ideas and theology of Vingt Regards.
– Commission of one poem by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Rowan Williams, inspired by Messiaen the man, his music and his faith.
A variety of events took place around the UK, including concerts, exhibitions, readings, a study day at King’s College London and a theological discussion at Westminster Abbey. For more information please visit www.messiaen2015.com.
My latest project is still in its infancy. It will explore the ways in which two musical lines interweave and interact, responding to and changing one another. The foundation of the project is music by J.S. Bach (his Two-Part Inventions, where the hands echo and answer one another) and Arvo Pärt (his tintinnabuli music, where the focus is on the intervallic relationship between two lines). Future plans for this project include a recording, a collaboration with an artist to create a light installation, and a study of how the brain responds to the different types of music. Please check back soon for more details.
When I was young I used to listen to my mother giving piano lessons, and wanted to learn too – I began playing as soon as I was big enough to climb onto the piano stool, aged 3. I learnt to communicate through music early on by thinking about something which meant a lot to me; I particularly remember one of these ‘stories’ which centered around the loss of a teddy bear which I loved! During my seven years at Chethams School of Music I discovered, among other things, the joys of chamber music. It’s so important in the solitary career of a pianist to rehearse deeply with others and to meet different and inspiring approaches to music.
In October 2006 I arrived at Clare College, Cambridge, where I studied Theology, and traveled regularly to London for piano lessons with Hamish Milne at the Royal Academy of Music. People are often surprised to hear that I didn’t choose to study at Music College, but for me the three years of my degree were a wonderful time of musical growth and challenge. I believe that, while many hours of practice are of course essential to a career as a performer, other intellectual input is incredibly important to one’s development as a musician. I feel very lucky to have been able to learn more about the world and the way people think, especially since religion and belief are so central to creativity and identity, and therefore also to music.
I particularly enjoyed writing my third year dissertation, which was about sacred sound in Hinduism. I looked at the possibility of achieving union with the divine through music-making, with special reference to sexual energy in the Indian traditions of goddess worship. I went on to study as a postgraduate at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama but am still fascinated by theology and philosophy and absorb books whenever possible. I particularly enjoy the theological dimension of Messiaen’s music and have spent time studying his great piano works Vingt Regards and Visions de l’Amen.
During time off, I like to people-watch in a café (preferably somewhere sunny) with a newspaper and a strong coffee. So far, my favourite locations for people-watching / coffee-drinking have probably been Istanbul, New York, Mumbai and Faro. I love to read, especially novels by Hardy, but the best entertainment is watching the tail-chasing, climbing and other excitable antics of the newest member of the household, Lara the Bengal kitten.
I have recently set up a series of events called Cafe Muse, taking place in venues around the UK and inspired by the artistic coffee-house culture of Paris. By presenting performances in the more laid-back setting of bars, cafés and restaurants, I hope to attract an audience who might not otherwise attend a concert and show that this wonderful music is still a vibrant and relevant art-form. The musicians chat about the works and their context, as well as any related poetry, art or literature, and there are breaks throughout the evening in which to order some food or another coffee and to socialise. Currently recruiting more venues – please get in touch if you know somewhere suitable.