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Melodia Women's Choir presents rare Messiaen choral work with newly-created all-women orchestra in "Visions of Eternity"
by Cynthia L. Cooper for Vocal Area Network
Posted May 9, 2009

Melodia Women's choir; photo by Andrew FraszSince the first concert of Melodia Women's Choir of New York City five years ago, conductor and artistic director Cynthia Powell has harbored a secret wish.

"It's been my dream to conduct Olivier Messiaen's Trois petites liturgies de la présence divine, one of the few major pieces in the repertoire for women's chorus and orchestra, and Messiaen's only work for a women's choir," said Powell. "I love Messiaen's harmonic language; I love his view on melody; I love his appreciation of nature and birdsong. From the beginning of my work with Melodia, I had in mind to do this piece," Powell said.

On May 16, 2009 at 8 PM, Powell will see her wish fulfilled with a bold and ambitious concert by Melodia Women's Choir. Called "Visions of Eternity," it will be performed at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, 980 Park Avenue in New York City, home of Sacred Music in a Sacred Space, and features Trois petites liturgies, along with other works by Messiaen or in homage to him.

Getting from dream to reality was a challenging undertaking, said Jennifer Clarke, Founder and Executive Director of Melodia. "This concert is definitely taking Melodia to a new level of artistry," said Clarke.

Among other things, Messiaen, who described the music as "a dazzlement of colors," composed the work to be performed with orchestra. In addition to piano, strings and percussion, the work features the rare ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument that has only a small cadre of experienced players worldwide. While Melodia frequently performs with instrumentalists and ensembles of players, including a concert with four horn players and others with a string quartet, "assembling an orchestra of this size was new to us," said Clarke.   

After three years of planning and amassing resources, Clarke and Powell formed Melodia Women's Orchestra for this concert, a group of 24 talented New York musicians. 

In keeping with Melodia's mission of supporting women artists, all of the instrumentalists are women, creating an internationally distinctive performance of the work. Kyung-A Yoo will perform the virtuosic piano part, and the ondes Martenot will be played by Françoise Murail, one of the few women in the world who performs on the instrument. Miranda Cuckson is the violin soloist.

The result is an extraordinary opportunity to hear the French composer's work. According to Andrew Shenton, director of the Boston University Messiaen Project, Messiaen wrote Trois petites liturgies after his release from a prisoner-of-war camp in Silesia during World War II. The text, also written by the composer, is intended to express Messiaen's view of pan-religious theological truths. After the original premiere in Paris in 1945, the artist Jean Cocteau called it a work of genius. Messaien himself compared it to a stained glass window with image, color and flecks of light.

Other works in the program include Lament, In Memoriam Olivier Messiaen by the Iranian-born composer Reza Vali, who composed the piece upon Messiaen's death in 1992. Naila Aziz, a Melodia singer from Azerbaijan, sings a solo that uses distinctly Middle Eastern vocal techniques, turns and glissandi.

The orchestra will also perform an instrumental piece by Messiaen, L'eau au maximum de hauter (Water at high tide). The piece was originally performed at the Paris Exposition of 1937 with six ondes Martenot, and was adapted by Claude S. Levine for solo onde, strings, flute and piano. 

Other works on the program include Messe à trios voix by André Caplet, Ave Maria by Gustav Holst, and Cantique de Jean Racine by Gabriel Fauré.

Tickets for Visions of Eternity, Saturday, May 16, 2009 at 8 PM at St. Ignatius Loyola, 980 Park Avenue at 84th Street, are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Advance tickets may be purchased through the Melodia website, www.melodiawomenschoir.org, or by calling Brown Paper Tickets, 800-838-3006. More information is available at 212-252-4134.

Cynthia L. Cooper is a journalist in New York City who has written for many publications, including Glamour, Marie Claire, Women's Enews, In These Times and Ms. Magazine. She is an avid choral audience member, and on the board of Melodia Women's Choir of NYC.

Content Contact: Cynthia L. Cooper.
Revision Date: May 9, 2009.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

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