Since the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble was founded by San Francisco violist-composer Kurt Rohde 23 years ago, it has performed hundreds of contemporary works, often paired with classics. Its concert next week, “Circa 1945,” featuring music written some seven decades ago, includes pieces that fit both categories: still newish, but already standards.
The centerpiece is Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time.” Messiaen wrote the unique and great work in a German prisoner of war camp in 1941, and performed it there with his fellow prisoners. The composer, a Catholic mystic, referred to a quote inspired by Revelation 10:1, to explain the title: “And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, who stood upon the sea and upon the earth, lifted up his hand to heaven, and swore that there should be time no longer…”
“The quartet sounds like nothing else in the world. It is easy to take for granted, but really, the way Messiaen takes the 88 notes available on the piano – the same ones available to everyone else – and turns them into this particular transcendent piece has me amazed,” says Anna Presler, LCCE’s artistic director and violinist, who will perform the piece with pianist Eric Zivian, cellist Tanya Tomkins and clarinetist Jerome Simas.
Describing the work’s nearly hour-long length and technical difficulty, Presler says: “Much of the time playing it I really do feel that time has been stretched or suspended, and at other times that I’m riding some madly inexorable train, coasting on the lines created by the piano, clarinet and cello.”
Tomkins calls the quartet more than just a great piece of music: “It is a transformative listening experience; with Messaien’s soundscape, where there are birds, trumpets, heartbeats and the sound of eternity, stretching players and listeners alike to almost ecstatic extremes.”
Other works in “Circa 1945” are Bohuslav Martinu’s 1947 Oboe Quartet, with oboist Andrea Plesnarski, who says, “it picks up strains of Eastern European folk music that I love’; and Stravinsky’s 1944 “Élégie” for Unaccompanied Solo Violin, which Presler calls “tenderly dissonant.”
IF YOU GO Left Coast Chamber Ensemble
Where: S.F. Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 2
Tickets: $15 to $30
Contact: (415) 617-5223, www.leftcoastensemble.org
Note: The program also is at 8 p.m. Feb. 5 at 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley.