Historiae de divini // Tales of the Divine

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about the show

The programme

Violinist Max Baillie combines dazzling technique with emotional range in this new type of recital in the Colnaghi Gallery.

More intimate than a front-row seat, watch the 16th century triptych and spiral staircase come to life as the music unfolds. In the Colnaghi Gallery in London. 38 mins.

The programme is:

Partita No. 2 in D Minor, by Johann Sebastian Bach
Louange à l’immortalité de Jésus from Quartet For The End Of Time, by Olivier Messiaen

The starting point for this programme was a triptych in the Colnaghi Gallery in London.

When Jonathan Berman (director) and Emily Ingram (executive producer) first saw the triptych, they were both immediately drawn to the details. The intricate architectural scenes in the background. The owl. The delicate and ornate headwear.

A few questions revealed that it came from the Antwerp School, post-1519. The central panel shows the Lamentation with the Entombment in the background, while the wings show Joseph of Arimathiea and Longinus, and Saints Mary Magdalene and Mary of Egypt. It is oil on panel in an engaged frame.

Even though the grief in the central scene is well-known, the details made it even more human, timeless, complicated. But you might not notice these things if you walked past the triptych in a gallery. Or perhaps if you were non-religious, you might feel it was irrelevant to you. Was there a way to bring these stories to life with music?

The obvious place to start seemed to be Bach, with his wide-ranging contribution to music and devotion to God. Bach also experienced a lot of grief in his life. Both his parents died before he was 10 years old and later in life, he lost 10 of his own children.

In his thirties, Bach composed the Partita in D Minor for solo violin (BMV 1004). It is written in five movements: Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue and Chaconne (or Ciaccona). All five were types of dances. There's a controlled emotional thread that runs through them all as they build up to the Chaconne.

A chaconne was a swirling, sexy dance that spread to Europe from South America. But there's a heaviness in this chaconne. Perhaps this was a man who knew the raw emotion of grief, and the complexity and layers of emotion that do not play by the rules of time. Perhaps he also understood the universality of this kind of grief.

While Bach wrote his Partita against a backdrop of religiosity and personal grief, Messiaen's work existed in a completely different context.

Olivier Messiaen's Quartet For The End Of Time (Quatuor pour la fin du temps) was composed when Messiaen was a prisoner of war at Stalag VIII A in Görlitz, Germany. Famously, the work was first performed inside the camp, in the freezing rain. The instruments were in poor condition, including (apparently) a cello with only three strings. Messiaen himself was at the piano. They performed to an audience of about 300 German guards and prisoners. The year was 1941.

The work is often described as "otherworldly" as it abandons the reality of time and, presumably, the reality of Messiaen's surroundings at the time it was written. It is a deeply human work that was created during an unprecedented period of large-scale inhumanity and destruction. Against this backdrop, the music takes a leap to an endless, unchanging scene of divinity.

Messiaen wrote in the preface to the score that he had been inspired by the following quotation from the Book of Revelation:

And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever ...that there should be time no longer.

"There should be time no longer" is the sort of eerie phrase that hangs in the air. But was "time no longer" an end to time and humanity, or an escape from the constraints of time and reality?

In this concert, we see the Louange from The Quartet For The End Of Time. A Louange is a song of praise. The tempo marking is infinimentlent (infinitely slow), building to a climax and then fading into nothingness.

We see Max playing in a sleek, modern spiral staircase in a different part of the Colnaghi Gallery. It's a non-sacred setting, and it feels dislocated from the triptych and more traditional gallery setting. We hear Diana Ketler on the piano.

About the artists

Max Baillie

Max Baillie

British-German violinist and violist Max Baillie is sought after as soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral leader in the UK and abroad. His musical life reflects his interest in the cross-pollination of musical styles, having led Bjork’s string orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall, recorded with guitar maestro John Williams, and dueted with Bobby McFerrin in New York. From folk tunes in the Welsh hills to major festivals across the world, Max leads a chameleonic life embracing classical, improvisation, and appearances on stages big and small.
Diana Ketler

Diana Ketler

Diana Ketler was born in Riga into a well-known family of musicians. She commenced her studies of music and piano at the age of five at the E Darzins specialised music school in Riga and played her concerto debut at the age of 11 with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Vassily Sinaisky. She graduated from the Latvian Academy of Music with a first class Honours degree in 1993, the Mozarteum Academy in Salzburg and Royal Academy in London. In 1996/1997 and 2000/2001 Diana was awarded the Hodgson Piano Fellowship at the Academy. Diana has appeared as a soloist with orchestras around the world and is frequently engaged at festivals, for solo recitals and masterclasses. Diana is currently a professor of piano at the Royal Academy of Music and artistic director of the Chiemgauer Musikfrühling Festival in Bavaria, Germany.
Jonathan Berman

Jonathan Berman

Jonathan Berman is a Conductor who performs with orchestras all over the world. He is known for his unique approach to communicating complex ideas with all audiences. He goes above and beyond the traditional role of a conductor, forming the trust of audiences from traditional listeners to the next generation. He is currently in the process of recording the complete symphonies and promoting the music of Franz Schmidt. ​At the start of lockdown, he began the website standtogethermusic.com in order to promote artists who have had cancellations.

Watch the trailer

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