Huge thanks to the folks at PianoCraft for helping Phillips Music stay in tune this concert season! This beautiful Steingraeber grand they lent us for the 75th anniversary Emanuel Ax benefit concert made the evening unforgettable. Mr. Ax sat at the freshly-tuned piano for no more than 15 seconds to warm up, hammered out a heap of chords and scales, and proclaimed: “perfect, I’m ready now.” PianoCraft, thank you for never letting us miss a single note this season.
In July 1940, Olivier Messiaen was among the thousands of French soldiers rounded up by the Germans and transported to Stalag VIII-A. In this prisoner camp, he composed one of the most remarkable works to have come out of World War II, Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time). Only a clarinet, a violin, a cello missing a string, and an upright piano of which the keys stuck at random were available to play the work.
With snow on the ground and rooftops, the première of the Quatuor took place on January 15, 1941 at 6 pm, in front of an audience of approximately 5,000 prisoners—farm workers, laborers, intellectuals, career soldiers, doctors, and priests.
Still picture from the documentary film “Quartet for the End of Time”
Earlier in Phillips Music’s 75th season, musicians from “The President’s Own” US Marine Corps Band offered a chilling rendition of the Messiaen’s Quatuor. Excerpted here are the final moments, performed by SSgt Karen Johnson and SSgt Christopher Schmitt, captured on film by H. Paul Moon of Zen Violence Films. Echoing a documented account of the audience’s reaction to the 1941 première, a moment of silence followed the final notes, establishing the profundity of the work, both then and now.
I’m so excited about yesterday’s launch of H. Paul Moon’s exquisitely designed Sitka: A Piano Documentary! It’s about the rebuilding of The Phillips Collection’s piano, now lovingly called “Sitka,” after the 600–800 year-old Sitka spruce tree native to Alaska from which the new soundboard was made. This film offers a fascinating and beautiful look into what exactly happens at PianoCraft, what I call a ‘hot-rod shops for pianos,’ and how they masterfully dealt with our piano from the inside out. Hearty congratulations, Paul!