French composer Olivier Messiaen was at the start of his musical career when, in May 1940, he was captured at Verdun and taken to the Nazis’ Stalag VIII-A camp near the German town of Görlitz. When he discovered that three other professional musicians – a violinist, a cellist and a clarinettist – were among his fellow prisoners, Messiaen set about writing a work for them to play. First performed at the prisoner-of-war camp on a rainy January day in 1941, the Quartet for the End of Time is one of the 21st century’s most overpowering works of art: ‘Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension,’ said Messiaen of its first performance, and its impact hasn’t diminished with age. It’s a laudably daring choice for tonight’s concert: written for four musicians, it’s a work that is rarely – if ever – programmed or performed as part of a full orchestral concert. After taking the violin part in the quartet, John Storgårds will then conduct the full-strength orchestra in Shostakovich’s symphonic song cycle, written late in the Russian composer’s career, which uses poetry from the likes of Federico García Lorca to forge a devastating vision of a life in retreat.
John Storgårds – Conductor/violin
John Bradbury – Clarinet
Peter Dixon – Cello
Martin Roscoe – Piano
Soile Isokoski – Soprano
Stephen Richardson – Bass-baritone