DITA Presents Oliver Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen in a Two-Piano Concert

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Photo by Pilar Timpane.On August 28, Duke Divinity School’s Goodson Chapel was filled to capacity as Duke Initiatives in Theology and Arts presented DITA director Dr. Jeremy Begbie and London-based concert pianist Ms. Cordelia Williams in a two-piano concert featuring Oliver Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen.

Messiaen, one of the most distinguished and influential French composers of the 20th century, composed Visions de l’Amen as a celebration of the Christian narrative. 

Throughout the evening, Williams and Begbie guided their audience through this elaborate musical work by offering brief meditations on each of the seven movements. These reflections’ themes ranged from creation to the new heavens and earth. 

Dr. Norman Wirzba, research professor of theology, ecology, and rural life at the Divinity School, reflected, “Vision, pathos, devotion, and the highest artistic skill came together to make for a memorable night. It was for me not only a musical celebration but also a theological highlight.”

Cordelia Williams and Jeremy Begbie play Messiaen's Visions de l'Amen. Photo by Pilar Timpane.

This performance was accompanied by an exhibition of the winning photographs of Illuminating Messiaen – a photography competition that included students, faculty, and alumni of Duke Divinity School.  Each movement of Messiaen’s Visions was paired with an image that best reflected that movement’s theme. Williams noted, “I think Visions is one of the most invigorating pieces I've ever had the privilege to learn, and when it was put in the context of the performance atmosphere, alongside the photographs, I felt quite moved.  It was a special performing experience for me.”

Williams and Begbie first performed this work at the Holy Week celebration at Kings College Chapel in Cambridge, England last spring, where representatives from Duke and Cambridge gathered to collaborate on theological and artistic projects. 

In addition to the Messiaen piece, Begbie and Williams also offered a jazz-inspired movement from a piano concerto by French composer Maurice Ravel and a spirited encore piece by Michel Camilo. 

“The concert of was a gift bringing together many voices,” said Sarah Wilcox, M.Div '14, student and leader of the New Creations arts club at the Divinity School, “The whole evening beautifully expressed theology through the various artistic media.”