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Huebner recital explores work of one of 20th century’s major composers

Eric Huebner's recital will feature three of Olivier Messiaen's piano works alongside pieces by Betsy Jolas, George Benjamin and Tristan Murail, all of whom studied with Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory.  

By BERT GAMBINI

Published March 3, 2016

“His compositions for orchestra expanded the idea of what an orchestral work could be.”
Eric Huebner, associate professor
Department of Music

An artist’s influence is often appreciated as much by tracing the path of former students as in exploring the emergence of styles or trends. The great French composer Olivier Messiaen, for instance, brought new possibilities into classical music composition, but he also taught a number of students who would as professionals make their own significant contributions to the classical repertoire.

Eric Huebner, associate professor of piano in the Department of Music, follows Messiaen’s particularly rich arc of influence in a program of performance and discussion in the next Scholars on the Road lecture on March 9 at the Good Shepherd-Faith Presbyterian Church, 152 W. 66th St., New York City.

Now in its third season, Scholars on the Road features UB faculty members discussing their areas of expertise with alumni, taking the classroom experience and sharing it with UB alumni here in Buffalo and around the country.

“With each event we grow the UB global alumni network in size, power and influence. Alumni enjoy the opportunity to learn from one of our world-renowned faculty and spend time networking with fellow graduates,” says Thomas McArthur, director of alumni engagement, College of Arts and Sciences. “As I travel the country meeting with fellow alumni, I am reminded how vast and great our network is. The series delivers thought-provoking topics and an opportunity for alumni to remain connected to UB.”

Tickets for the performance must be purchased online in advance. There will be no sales at the door. Guests do not have to attend the recital in order attend the alumni reception, but registration is required.

Huebner’s recital features three of Messiaen’s piano works played alongside pieces by Betsy Jolas, George Benjamin and Tristan Murail, all of whom studied with Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory.

The performance opens with a composition by Paul Dukas, one of Messiaen’s early teachers, who wrote the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” a composition popularized by the film “Fantasia.”

The Dukas piece serves as a two-fold starting point for the evening, not only opening the program, but introducing a stylistic approach that Huebner, who is also a pianist-member of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, will articulate in performance.

“I thought it would be interesting to include Dukas because the harmonic language he used is so similar to the early Messiaen prelude that I’ll be playing,” Huebner says. “Part of what the program presents are these various connections, some of which are quite discernable and some of which are more symbolic.”

Messiaen is probably the greatest French composer of the last half of the 20th century, according to Huebner.

He says we hear Messiaen’s influence in two significant ways.

“The first general aspect is he was a composer working at a time of great cultural upheaval and rapid changes in music,” Huebner says. “It was the end of World War II and the challenge for European composers was trying to reassemble both life and work and try to find a way forward.”

But Huebner says Messiaen also expanded the harmonic palette. He was an innovator of rhythm and motive who incorporated non-Western musical ideas into this work, taking inspiration from nature and including such elements as birdsong.

“His compositions for orchestra expanded the idea of what an orchestral work could be,” Huebner says.

Messiaen’s faith also influenced his music and Huebner will play two movements from “Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus,” a meditation on the birth of Jesus.

“The overall impact of this music is so strong and moving that it can’t help but make listeners curious about Messiaen’s complete body of work,” says Huebner, who will perform with the New York Philharmonic for the “Turangalîla-Symphonie,” one of Messiaen’s large scale pieces, the week after his Scholars on the Road lecture.