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Piano Spheres: Susan Svrcek
with James Sullivan, Jacqueline Suzuki, & Lynn Angebranndt
October 27, 2017

Boston Court's Fall Music Series generously sponsored by Elaine Kramer and Al Latham.

Boston Court's Fall Music Series is made possible in part by the Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission and the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division.

Friday, October 27, 2017 @ 8pm
Pre-Concert Talk Begins @ 7:15pm

Featuring Susan Svrcek (piano), James Sullivan (clarinet), Jacqueline Suzuki (violin), and Lynn Angebranndt (cello).

An evening of works by Olivier Messiaen including the iconoclastic Quartet for the End of Time.

“Because she has probed so carefully into, and brought so many facets out of the massive repertory for the solo piano, one comes to her recitals with high expectations, new thrills, rediscovered gems, unknown masterpieces.”—Los Angeles Times

Pianist and Piano Spheres founding member Susan Svrcek has established a versatile career that encompasses critically acclaimed solo, chamber, and orchestral appearances in the United States and abroad. She is noted for her wide range of repertoire from Mozart and Beethoven to Xenakis and Boulez. This concert features Oliver Messiaen’s holocaust masterpiece Quartet for the End of Time.

Program

  • Prelude of short Messiaen piano pieces
  • Quartet for the End of Time by Olivier Messiaen

The Quartet for the End of Time is the first of Messiaen's works in which the contrast between movements becomes truly extreme: there is a new level of violence in the music. It is not hard to imagine why this might be, given the work's famous origins, written while Messiaen was a prisoner of war at the Nazis' Stalag VIII-A camp. The struggle to not only endure the terrible conditions, but also to incorporate the experience into his Catholic faith, must have been profound. (Henri Akoka, the clarinettist for the premiere of the quartet, asked Messiaen to join him in attempting to escape; Messiaen answered: "No, it's God's will I am here.") The result is a work more emotionally engaged than any Messiaen had written previously, and is perhaps the most open and vulnerable of all his compositions. Its religious certainties balanced with a palpable sense of longing.

The piece is so deeply involving to hear that one can miss how odd it is. The unusual combination of piano, clarinet, violin and cello, reflecting the players he had available to him at the camp, is only a part of it. Of its eight movements, only half involve all four players: one is a solo, two are duets, and one is a trio. Even stranger, the clarinet and cello are silent for the last 10 minutes of the piece. In fact, each musician has to sit still for this long once or twice, which can make the experience of performance feel rather disjointed. This reflects a curious and disparate genesis: the duo movements are reworkings of previous compositions; the solo clarinet movement was written as a gift for Akoka as they travelled together under German guard; the trio was written for friends in captivity before the concept of writing a quartet had even entered Messiaen's mind. Only the remaining four movements were written with the quartet in mind.

That it should have emerged from such horrific beginnings seems little short of miraculous. It offers a stark juxtaposition between the destructive and creative potentials of humanity, a struggle we all embody to some degree. Perhaps Messiaen's solution was an attempt to avoid the reality of his situation, an escape into his artistic and religious worlds, but it has left us an enduring and improbable masterpiece.

Pianist Susan Svrcek has established a versatile career that encompasses critically acclaimed solo, chamber, and orchestral appearances in the United States and abroad. A winner of the Concert Artists’ Guild International Competition in New York, she made her debut in Carnegie Recital Hall. She has also had solo engagements from the Boston Museum of Fine Art to Tokyo’s Zero Hall, Art Hall in Seoul, and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. She has been soloist with the Pasadena and Long Beach Symphonies, among others, and has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group. She has been a featured artist on National Public Radio, Bavarian National Radio, and NHK Radio (Japan).

As a founding member of Piano Spheres, Susan Svrcek has premiered works by Joan Huang, Benjamin Lees, Frederick Lesemann, Hyo-shin Na, Jeffrey Holmes, and Sean Heim. She is the pianist with ensembleGREEN, the Los Angeles-based chamber music group, specializing in the performance of new music. Concurrently, she performs chamber music of the “old masters.”

Ms. Svrcek is noted for her wide range of repertoire, from Mozart and Beethoven to Xenakis and Boulez. She has achieved mastery in her performances, as noted in the Los Angeles Times, “because she has probed so carefully into, and brought so many facets out of the massive repertory for the solo piano, one comes to her recitals with high expectations, new thrills, rediscovered gems, unknown masterpieces.”

Ms. Svrcek is in demand to give master classes throughout California, as well as in Japan and Korea. She has served on the piano faculties of Scripps College, Claremont Graduate University, and California State University Fullerton. Currently, she is the chair of the Piano Department and also chairs the Chamber Music Department at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music.

Ms. Svrcek has recorded for CRI, Cambria, and ORFEO. She holds two degrees from CalArts, a master’s degree from Yale University, and a doctorate from the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music.

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