Monthly Archives: October 2014

Des canyons aux étoiles…

CANYONS Fabian 1 Low Res

Photo Credit: Tristan Rebien


Through my fellowship at the Australian National Academy of Music, I am collaborating with Jacob Abela to present Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles…. The upcoming Melbourne premiere marks the second performance of this epic work in Australia since its premiere by the Australian Chamber Orchestra in 1988 with Messiaen himself in the audience.

Des canyons aux étoiles… was premiered at Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Centre on November 20, 1974. Commissioned by Tully to celebrate the bicentenary of the United States Declaration of Independence, this 100 minute work is inspired by the birds, colour and landscape of Bryce Canyon in Utah. Guided by the solo piano and boasting augmented wind, brass and percussion, this work will be realised by some of Australia’s finest musicians including Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s principal horn Ben Jacks, and renowned Australian percussionist, Peter Neville under the baton of Fabian Russell.


Fabian Russell


Jacob Abela, piano

Ben Jacks, horn

Peter Neville percussion

Kaylie Melville percussion


ANAM students and special guests

WHEN: 5pm, Sunday November 23, 2014

Doors open 4:30, drinks available

WHERE: South Melbourne Town Hall,

210 Bank St, South Melbourne VIC

TICKETS: $28/$20 concession

Book online at

$5 ANAMate tickets at the door

CONTACT: or phone: +61 3 9645 7911

Messiaen a7-01

P R O G R A M   N O T E S

Olivier Messiaen French composer Olivier Messiaen was born in 1908 to a literary family – he believed that his mother’s sequence of poems The Budding Soul were prophetic of his future artistic career. Inspired by Ravel and Debussy, Messiaen studied piano, organ and composition, and was accepted in to the Paris Conservatoire in 1919 at age 11. In World War II, Messiaen was drafted into the French army as a medical auxiliary, but was captured and imprisoned at Stalag VIII-A. There he met a cellist, violinist and clarinettist for whom he wrote a trio which he incorporated into his Quartet for the End of Time, first performed to an audience of prisoners and prison guards. After his release in 1941, Messiaen was appointed professor of harmony at the Paris Conservatoire, where he compiled his modes of limited transposition – scales which fulfil criteria relating to interval repetition and symmetry. Messiaen described terms such as ‘tonal’, ‘modal’ and ‘serial’ as misleading analytical conveniences, for him there was simply music with or without colour. Messiaen’s students included Boulez, Stockhausen and Xenakis, who he urged to take advantage of his background in mathematics and architecture. Contrary to the increasing vogue of secularism in the mid 1900s, Messiaen drew on his Roman Catholic faith, explicitly so in several large-scale piano works and song cycles. Other works such as Turangalîla-Symphonie however, were an extended meditation on the joy of human union and love rather than divine love. In the 1960s, Messiaen’s love of ornithology featured heavily in his compositions, some of which comprise almost entirely of birdsong such as Réveil des oiseaux. Near the end of his life he wrote Éclairs sur l’au-delà… for the New York Philharmonic, which was premièred six months after his death in Paris in 1992.

Des canyons aux étoiles… Commissioned for the bicentenary of the founding of the United States, the cycle Des Canyons aux étoiles… for piano and orchestra was written from 1971 to 1974 following a trip Olivier Messiaen made to Utah. The canyons of Utah are the starting point for this monumental fresco described in twelve movements, and the music rises to the stars, encountering during this ascension several birdsongs dear to the composer. This is a geological work whose mission is to celebrate the landscape and birds found in America, yet it is also astronomical, and, as Messiaen’s music often is, frankly religious. This pursuit of the grandiose takes place within highly developed writing. A work of ‘sound-colour’, Des Canyons aux étoiles… innovates first of all with its orchestration. Written for only 44 instruments including a very complex percussion section that includes a wind machine and a geophone (an instrument Messiaen invented for this work), the piece produces incredible sound images due to its instrumental assembly. The solo piano either acts alone (in two of the twelve movements), or alternates with, or is superimposed on the orchestra. Its mainly timbral treatment manages to achieve a complexity of sound which emulates the entire orchestra. From a formal point of view, in the same sense as in visual art, this work reflects a ‘refusal of composition’. In other words, all the moments of musical progress appear equally important to listen to, and none of them demand attention at the expense of others.  

Part I: Le désert (The desert) The desert is a symbol of the void of the soul that allows one to hear the inner call of the Spirit. That is, for Messiaen, the best way to begin this gradual journey to the stars. The theme played on the horn evokes a peaceful state; birds and desert wind (performed on the wind machine) define the vast silence of Creation.

Les Orioles First of the five movements consisting solely of birdsong. These are American troupials or orioles from the western United States. Most of these birds have an orange and black coat, and all of them are excellent singers. Birds are the perfect link between nature and music, between earth and sky.

Ce qui est écrit sur les étoiles ~ (What is written on the stars~) MENE (measured), TEKEL (weighed), PARASIN (divided). At the feast of Belshazzar, King of Babylon, who refused to recognise the existence of God, these words appeared in letters of fire. For Messiaen these words describe the order of the placement and movement of the stars in the universe. These words also have a musical equivalence as the letters that comprise them are translated into notes.

Le Cossyphe d’Heuglin (The white-browed robin-chat) For solo piano, and the second of five movements consisting solely of birdsong. Here, it is a South-African bird that sings.

Cedar Breaks et le don de crainte (Cedar Breaks and the gift of awe) In his preface to the score, Messiaen refers to Cedar Breaks as ‘a vast amphitheatre, sliding down towards a deep abyss,’ evoking a sense of awe at the overwhelming beauty in unspoiled nature and a symbol of the Divine Presence.

Part II: Appel interstellaire (Interstellar call) One of the main inspirations for this piece, Messiaen originally wrote this movement as a memorial to the young French composer, and student, Jean-Pierre Guézec. In the notes to this movement, the composer quotes from the bible: It is he that heals hearts and binds up their wounds; it is he that numbered the stars, calling each by name. (Book of Psalms) O earth, cover not thou blood, and let my cry have no place. (Book of Job)

Bryce Canyon et les rochers rouge-orange (Bryce Canyon and the Red-Orange Rocks) This is the central movement of the work. Bryce Canyon is a gigantic circus of fantastic formations of red, orange, and violet rocks. This movement attempts to reproduce all of these colours, and those of the Steller’s Jay (blue and black) while flying over the canyon.

Part III: Les ressuscités et le chant de l’étoile Aldebaran (The resurrected and the song of the Aldebaran star) Again, the book of Job furnished the inspiration: “the stars sing,” they possess their own natural sonority. The stars sing, the resurrected revolve around the stars.

Le moqueur polyglotte (The mockingbird) Second movement for piano solo, and the third of five movements consisting solely of birdsong. The sound suggests a large landscape, and through some inexplicable sleight-of-hand, implies something that is only realised at its departure. The mockingbird launches forth and dazzles with its tricks and imitations, accumulating momentum and bursting in a blaze of hot light.

La grive de bois (The wood-thrush) Fourth of the five movements consisting solely of birdsong. The song of the wood-thrush is a major arpeggio with a clear timbre. It is usually preceded by a pickup and followed by a lower rustling. This birdsong symbolises the archetype that God wanted, and that we realise in heavenly life.

Omao, Leiothrix, Elepaio, Shama Final movement consisting solely of birdsong. These birds from the Hawaiian islands, China, and India form the nucleus of this ‘long symphony of birds’.

Zion Park et la cité celeste (Zion Park and the celestial city) Nature and the divine fuse in this vision of paradise. Those who discover the walls, trees, and limpid river of Zion Park see it as a symbol of Paradise; the ultimate opportunity, in this work, to observe heaven on Earth.


JACOB ABELA – Co-Curator/Piano Jacob Abela is a Melbourne-based pianist and composer, currently studying with Timothy Young at the Australian National Academy of Music. In 2014, Jacob received an ArtStart grant from the Australia Council for the Arts. This grant has funded projects such as recordings of three commissioned works with American flautist Meerenai Shim and a tour of Lachlan Hughes’ extended work cadence loops which he commissioned. Jacob has performed at the 2012 Banff Summer Arts Festival (Canada), Steve Reich’s 2012 Sydney Opera House Residency with Synergy Percussion, 2012 Sydney Festival (in the Helpmann nominated show Anatomy of an Afternoon), 2011 Verge Festival, 2010 ISCM World New Music Days, and 2009 Stockhausen Licht Festival. Jacob frequently engages composers for new music, and performs their music regularly. His passion for and dedication to contemporary music led him to be chosen on two occasions, as one of two pianists worldwide, as a Fellow for the 2013 and 2014 Bang on a Can Summer Music Festivals. Jacob has also premiered a large number of new works with the Volta Collective – a group of composers and performers he co-founded in 2009.


GEORGIA IOAKIMIDIS-MACDOUGALL – Co-Curator/Horn Georgia Ioakimidis-MacDougall is a freelance artist based in Melbourne, and 2014 Fellow at the Australian National Academy of Music under the mentorship of Genevieve Lacey. She works as a contract and casual horn player with many of the state orchestras, and enjoys playing in a variety of chamber music settings. Georgia is a 2013 Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival Fellow. Highlights of this year include commissioning The Window from Liza Lim for quarter-tone flugelhorn, working with Brett Dean and Lachlan Hughes to present a sold out chamber music concert at iconic Melbourne coffee shop St. Ali, and co-presenting a project with composer and friend Peter De Jager at the Melbourne Recital Centre which included a major new commission. Georgia is currently studying a Graduate Diploma in Psychology and looks forward to moving to Berlin in 2015 after her final ANAM Fellowship concert in March.


FABIAN RUSSELL – Conductor Fabian Russell has been at the forefront of the Australian classical music industry over the last twenty five years as Conductor, Artistic Director, teacher and orchestral musician, holding positions with Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. In 2002 he founded The Orchestra Project for pre-eminent young musicians, and has conducted the Australian Youth Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Symphony Sinfonia, and ANAM orchestra. In 2012 Fabian was appointed Principal Conductor at the Monash University Academy of the Performing Arts, and Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Tasmanian Discovery Orchestra. He made his opera debut in 2013 with Victorian Opera conducting John Adams Nixon in China. This year he conducted Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, AYO’s National Music Camp, and the Australian International Summer Orchestra Institute. Fabian was awarded the Sir Winston Churchill Fellowship in 2011, and is an international adviser to the London based Australian Music Foundation.


BEN JACKS – Horn Ben Jacks is one of Australia’s leading Horn Players, and holds the position of Principal Horn in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Outside of the orchestra, Ben has a busy solo and chamber music career, and is Head of Brass at the Australian National Academy of Music. Ben has studied with Dale Clevenger and Gail Williams in Chicago, Stefan Dohr in Berlin, Professor Erich Penzel in Cologne and Hector McDonald in Vienna. He has performed with every professional orchestra in Australia, and enjoys a career performing internationally as guest Principal Horn including his 2013 debut with with the London Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Valery Gergiev. Ben Jacks has a busy solo career performing with the Australian Brass Quintet, as a soloist and in chamber music recitals. Jacks has recently broken into the career of a recording artist with his debut CD “Rhapsodie” for the Melba label.


PETER NEVILLE – Glockenspiel Peter is Head of Percussion at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and at the Australian National Academy of Music. Whilst he works across the range of musical styles, he has a particular commitment to new music. As the percussionist of the ELISION Ensemble for twenty-eight years, he has been involved with practically all their concerts, recordings and international tours. Peter works regularly with Six Degrees, SPEAK Percussion, The Nick Tsiavos Ensemble, The David Chesworth Ensemble, BOLT Ensemble and The Raga Dolls Salon Orchestra and he has recorded and/or toured internationally with each of them. Peter has worked in orchestral and music-theatre settings, and his CD recordings range from pop albums by Peter Andre and Deborah Conway to soundtracks including “Words and Pictures” as well as numerous chamber music discs.


KAYLIE MELVILLE – Xylorimba Kaylie is a freelance percussionist based in Melbourne. She is in her second year at the Australian National Academy of Music where she is studying with Peter Neville. Kaylie has performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Australian Youth Orchestra and Sydney Sinfonia, and has been selected as an Emerging Artist with Speak Percussion in 2010, 2012 and 2014. She has performed at festivals including the Metropolis New Music Festival, the Melbourne Festival, the Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music, the Salihara Festival (Indonesia) and the Percussive Arts Society’s International Convention (USA). Kaylie is particularly interested in percussion ensemble repertoire and has performed with Speak Percussion, Tetrafide, Quadraphonic Percussion and Defying Gravity. Kaylie’s passion for contemporary chamber music and Australian repertoire has lead her to found the Bricolage Collective, a contemporary percussion ensemble dedicated to championing and performing new Australian works.



VIOLINS | Victoria Bihun * | Isabel Hede | Ben Spiers

Hannah Walters | Hayato Simpson | Yena Choi

VIOLAS | Nelson Yarwood * | Matt Laing | Beth Condon

CELLI | Blair Harris * | Gemma Tomlinson | Eliza Sdraulig | BASS | Jonathon Coco*

FLUTES | Lina Andonovska * | Agatha Yim | Tamara Kohler Piccolo | David Shaw Alto

OBOES | Ben Opie* | Jasper Ly | David Reichelt Cor Anglais

CLARINETS | Alex Morris * | Paul Dean | Luke Carbon Bass| Nick Evans Eb

BASSOONS | Chris Haycroft * | Tom St John | Chris Martin Contra

HORNS | Ben Jacks * | Georgia Ioakimidis-MacDougall | Rachel Shaw

TRUMPETS | Callum G’Froerer * | Alison Wright | Josh Rogan Piccolo

TROMBONES | Iain Faragher * | Adrian King | Ben Anderson* Bass

PERCUSSION | Hamish Upton * | Matthew Horsley | Hugh Tidy

Madi Chwasta | Stefania Kurniawan (* denotes principal)


Thank-you to everyone who has made this project possible.


Thank-you to Fabian Russell for being so generous with his skills and mentorship. Thanks to the musicians of the orchestra, in particular our soloists, for donating their time and energy towards realising this project. My heartfelt thanks to Matt Hoy for creating a space for young artists to realise creative projects, and being most generous with his humour and expertise. Many rabbits, many hats. Thank-you to Genevieve Lacey for inspiring a generation of young musicians to be ambitious and giving so freely of her skills and thoughts. Thank-you to the team at ANAM, especially Les, Noe, Paul, Nick and Joan, and to tonight’s sound engineer, Tilman Robinson. Thanks to Tristan Rebien and Hannah Hughes for their photography and design work.


Program notes by:

Georgia Ioakimidis-MacDougall, Jacob Abela, Guy Lelong and Steven Lacoste.


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